FDA Will Soon Help You Calculate How Much Added Sugar You're Eating

By: Laurie L. Dove

Carousel image: gilaxia/Getty Images Video: BrainStuff: The Way We Think About Sugar Is Going To Change HowStuffWorks
Carousel image: gilaxia/Getty Images Video: BrainStuff: The Way We Think About Sugar Is Going To Change HowStuffWorks

Whether it's a can of pop, a bag of chips or a prewrapped granola bar, the way we look at food labels in the U.S. will soon be changing — potentially for the better.

Currently, key information on food labels is either missing or difficult to read. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, plans to change that with a new format for Nutrition Facts labels. The changes will go into effect by July 26, 2018, for most food manufacturers.


As BrainStuff host Paul Dechant explains in this video, the FDA's changes are designed to get people thinking about their food choices and the onset of chronic diseases, like obesity. The new format will have a larger, bolder font to show calorie amounts more prominently. Serving sizes will reflect more realistic portions that most people are prone to eat and, notably, a line on the label will be dedicated to the amount of added sugars.

What's the big deal about sugar, added or otherwise? Fruits, vegetables and dairy foods all contain natural sugars, which are a type of carbohydrate. The real problem, however, is the sugars that are added during processing, like syrup, honey, cane syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, glucose, dextrose, fructose and more. These extra sugars don't add nutrients, but they do add calories — and those calories pile up.

As the video notes, the average American adult consumes 75 grams of added sugar per day, an amount that comes out to about 19 teaspoons. The added sugar in the typical American diet is well over the FDA recommended limit for adults of 50 grams, or 12.5 teaspoons, of sugar per day. And even the FDA limit seems high compared to that of the World Health Organization, which recommends added sugar intake of 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, per day.

Why does it matter how much sugar people are consuming? Shouldn't we be able to police our own habits? Well, that's really the point. The FDA's new label is designed to make it easier to quickly understand a food product's nutritional content and then make an informed decision. There's clear scientific evidence linking sugar to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses like heart disease, but the public's access to this information has been murky at best.

Beginning in the 1960s, the sugar industry sponsored research that purposefully singled out fat as the dietary cause of heart disease, while minimizing the role of sugar consumption. The efforts of the sugar industry were so far-reaching that when the U.S. government published its dietary guidelines for Americans in 1980, the guidelines recommended avoiding fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Limiting sugar was only given a brief mention as a way to prevent tooth decay.

Walk into a grocery store today and those effects are still visible. Many low-fat or low-cholesterol products line the shelves, but there are few that advertise low sugar. The new FDA labels are intended to put more control in the hands of consumers.