Making Sense of Sugar Labels

By Claire Dalidowitz, RD

If you’ve looked at a nutrition facts label recently, it may look different than you remember. Food companies have begun rolling out updated nutrition facts labels to comply with new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. One of the biggest changes you’ll see on the label is a new category called added sugar. What does this mean?

Sugar naturally occurs in some foods—lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, for example. The added sugar label, as its name suggests, tells you that a food company added extra sugar to their product. Often sugar is added to make the food taste better or improve its texture.

Too much added sugar can affect your health. It may cause abnormal weight gain or put you at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends children consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day and no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per week. Twenty-five grams of added sugar may sound like a lot, but the average American consumes more than 70 grams of added sugar per day. Soda and juice are often major culprits—a 12-ounce can of soda can have about 40 grams of added sugar—but added sugar can turn up in more surprising places like low-fat yogurt and granola!

To help see where added sugar will appear on the new nutrition facts label, check out the side-by-side comparison of the old and new labels:

Source: FDA

Under “total carbohydrate,” the old nutrition facts label shows the food has 12 grams of sugar, while the new label shows that 10 grams of that is added sugar. The new label notes that 10 grams of added sugar is 20% of your daily value of added sugar; the FDA says adults on a 2,000 calorie per day diet should limit their added sugar intake to 50 grams per day. As noted earlier, the American Heart Association recommends children consume half that—up to 25 grams of added sugar per day.

Contact our nutrition team if you’d like more information about nutrition labels or healthy eating habits for children and teens.

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