Why Manufacturers DON’T Want Nutrition Labels to Include Added Sugars Info

Chobani Blueberry Nutrients Sugar FocusNew here?  Get our iPhone or Android App to scan & choose healthy groceries! 

For years, we have been proponents of improved nutrition labeling on food products. There are various loopholes and tricks manufacturers use to embellish the nutritional value of their products. Labeling trans-fats as zero when they aren’t is one example.

Sugar is an interesting nutrient. We are all consuming way too much sugar daily. According to all health organizations, people should drastically reduce the amount of added sugars they consume. But if one turns to the nutrition facts label of products, the only sugar info available is “sugars”, which is a sum of naturally occurring sugars in a product and the added sugars.

The FDA recently asked for comments from the public on the matter.All the food companies that commented on the FDA website sided with NO CHANGES to the existing label. The reasoning: added information would only serve to confuse consumers. Lame.

The real reason that manufactures don’t want us to know the sugar breakdown is that we would be shocked as to how much is added to almost all products. Take Chocolate milk, with 3 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar PLUS 3 added teaspoons of sugar. Per cup. That’s more sugar than most people would add to coffee or tea. How many people would return a product to the shelf if they knew the exact amount of added sugar?

Here’s an example of a healthy product, Greek Yogurt and its sugar load:

Chobani Blueberry Yogurt contains 20 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 5 teaspoons. The sugar comes from 3 sources:

  1. lactose that is naturally found in dairy products
  2. blueberries
  3. evaporated cane juice

The first two sources are naturally occurring sugars. The last one is added sugar. Now then, how much of the 20 grams of sugar are added?

Nobody knows. Except for the manufacturer.

Let’s do some math, shall we?

The plain version of Chobani Greek yogurt has 7 grams of sugar. This means that the blueberry and cane juice account for 13 grams of sugars.

20 – 7 = 13

Now if blueberries were accountable for a majority of the 13 grams that would be great, but since blueberries are 85% water by weight, we can safely impute that less than 3 grams of sugar come from the blueberries.

20 – 7 – 3 = 10

That leaves 10 grams of added sugar in the product. That’s 2 and a half teaspoons.

Are 2.5 tsp of added sugars in a yogurt bad? good?

You can decide for yourself by buying plain yogurt, adding blueberries, and then adding sugar on your own. Will you add one teaspoon of sugar? Two? More?…That’s up to you.

But you’ll never be able to make an educated purchase decision if the only data point you have on a product’s package is total sugars.

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  • NMPatricia

    Is there a way to know which is added sugars? Since becoming aware of this issue, I have tried to figure out the added sugar thing and have become completely confused. If one wanted to limit the amount of sugar, it is added sugar?

  • Abalone

    Sugar is sugar. How much producers add may be a scandal or it may be merely interesting, but all you really need to know when you eat it is the total amount.

    • Michele Hays @QuipsTravails

      I don’t think that’s accurate. I mean, yes, to some degree it is true chemically – but in terms of nutritional bang for your buck there’s a giant difference between eating a banana or drinking a glass of milk vs. eating banana-flavored Laffy Taffy and drinking a Wendy’s Frosty. (You could argue that we can eat candy in calorie-controlled amounts and take vitamin/fiber pills, but there’s very little evidence to support that as a healthful diet. Just because that professer at K-State is still alive does not mean a junk food diet + vitamins, protein and fiber is healthy.)

      If we start trying to eliminate ALL sugar, we have to get rid of onions, beets, carrots – well, pretty much all plant matter, as all plants make sugar. Added sugars are different from the natural ones in that they increase calories without adding value other than flavor, and the flavor trains your tastebuds to want even more sugary empty calories.

      • Abalone

        There is, indeed, a difference between eating a banana vs. candy but the nutritional difference is in what surrounds the sugar, not in the sugar, itself. Sugar is still sugar. Sure, bananas also contain vitamins, protein, potassium, and fiber. If you’re going to eat something sweet, you’re clearly better off with the banana than the candy. OTOH, you can get quality nutrition accompanied by much less sugar. Your onion, for example, is a better choice than the banana. Food choices are relative.

        You’re right that we don’t need to eliminate ALL sugar but we’re better off reducing it. To reduce sugar intake in your diet you need only know the total grams of sugar. Period. Inferring from the fact that a product’s sugar is naturally occurring, not added, that what accompanies the sugar is enough of a nutrition powerhouse to compensate for the sugar is bogus. All you can reasonably infer is that it’s most likely a better nutritional choice than candy. To evaluate a food for overall nutrition, you need other information, like vitamin and mineral content. Listing added sugar separately has no added value for reducing sugar consumption. Nor does it tell you anything about what nutrition might accompany the sugar.

        It is easy to make invalid inferences. For example, we know that whole grains are better for us than processed grains. That does not mean that whole grains are desirable on an absolute basis, only relative to processed ones. I’d hate to see the same thing happen with naturally-occurring sugar. Putting added sugar on the label may suggest to some that sugar is good for you as long as it’s naturally occurring. Sure, some sugar in the diet is fine. Too much sugar, regardless of source, is not.

        • Violet

          I’ve seen some scientists insisting different types of sugars are handled quite differently by the body, so some forms of sugar are less healthy/more toxic than others. Hasn’t science moved past the “sugar is sugar” thinking?

  • http://www.EatStylePlay.com/ Eat.Style.Play

    Does it matter if it’s plain yogurt? I usually get plain and then put vanilla in it, or fresh fruit.

  • Lisa

    “We are all consuming way too much sugar daily.”

    All of us? Really?

  • Michele Hays @QuipsTravails

    I love this FB page.

    Another issue with added sugars to keep an eye out for: if there are different kinds of sugar added (meaning, several of the 125 listed above) they wind up in different spots (per the proportion of that particular item) on the ingredients list, so even if the product lists the added sugars low on the ingredients list, the product still might be mostly made of sugar.

  • Mark Aronstein

    Thank you Fooducate for all you do, but it’s no surprise how heads of industry groups commented on this. Unfortunately, this item in the Federal Register came out May 31, and it says that the FDA was only receiving comments until July 30… Too bad this article is here for us now only after the fact (or perhaps you published something similar earlier, before I subscribed to your posts?… Maybe I’m not seeing a previous post among in the ‘Nutrition Label Analysis’ Category on your blog?). Or am I perhaps reading the Regulations.gov page wrong and we can still submit comments that will be considered? Any help would be appreciated.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Unfortunately we saw this too late :-(

  • Elisa Elkind

    Could you elaborate on how an “added sugar” is defined. Example– What about in a Honey Greek Yogurt. The Honey is the flavor, and also the added sugar… or is that natural like the blueberry because it was not refined in a way to simply extract sugar out of its natural state? Thank you!

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Honey is an ADDED sugar. Most honey bought in supermarkets is also processed to some extent.

    • Carol

      Here is how “sugars” are defined for purposes of food labeling in the US: “the sum of all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose)”, so this will include the sugars in honey, agave, cane sugar, maple syrup, etc. As for “no added sugars” that is a little more complicated, but basically it is defined, in part, as “No amount of sugars, as defined [above], or any other ingredient that contains sugars that functionally substitute for added sugars is added during processing or packaging; and the product does not contain an ingredient containing added sugars such as jam, jelly, or concentrated fruit juice…”
      In addition, when a “no added sugars” claim is made, it is required that… “The product bears a statement that the food is not “low calorie” or “calorie reduced” (unless the food meets the requirements for a “low” or “reduced calorie” food) and that directs consumers’ attention to the nutrition panel for further information on sugar and calorie content.”

  • pannb713

    I have found that I can use plain yogurt and add a banana and another fruit and not need any added sugar. The banana has enough natural sugar to sweeten up the other fruit. Raspberries and yogurt do not even need the banana.

  • Diane

    I just eat foods that are very low in total sugars, added or naturally occurring. I have been living a very low sugar diet for 2.5 years now and feel great, lost weight, improved general health and energy levels. I also don’t eat starchy foods such as bread, potatoes or rice as these foods basically turn into sugar as soon as you eat them – they are in fact – sugar!

  • Karen

    It would have been better to have sent this out before the July 30 deadline for public comments.

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  • http://www.fatguyweightloss.com Fat Guy Weight Loss

    I guess in the end non-fiber carbs are treated close to the same once they get consumed anyway so doesn’t matter much. Personally would rather have frutose content on the label…

  • Tropicdoc

    Sugar is sugar natural or not. The overall goal should be to eat less sugar period…under 20-25 gms a day.Eg.fruit is healthy if eaten in a balanced Way

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