THE BLOG
07/30/2015 11:48 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

Why the FDA's New Added Sugar Proposal Matters

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended nutrition labels list added sugar and its recommended daily intake (called Daily Value).

Currently, if you look at a food label, you'll find total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, and total sugars (listed as "sugars"). While the first two -- total carbohydrate and dietary fiber -- have a Daily Value, listed as percentages, total sugars do not.

"FDA is proposing including the percent daily value (%DV) for added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods, giving consumers additional information for added sugars similar to information they have seen for decades with respect to nutrients such as sodium and certain fats," reads the FDA's website. "The percent daily value would be based on the recommendation that the daily intake of calories from added sugars not exceed 10 percent of total calories."

The FDA's recommendation would be an improvement over the 16 percent of added sugar they estimate Americans now consume.

Studies show we consume even higher amounts. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found average added sugar intake about 21.4 teaspoons daily.

Worse, a 2009 paper published in the journal Circulation found an average added sugar intake of 22.2 teaspoons a day, with 14- to 18-year-olds even higher with a whopping 34 teaspoons of added sugar.

Those amounts add up quickly. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar yearly.

While all sugars matter, added sugars become more detrimental because they're often found in processed, nutrient-empty foods and include heavily processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

"Added sugar, unlike naturally occurring sugars, doesn't come packaged with other nutritional benefits," writes Leigh Weingus. "For example, fruit naturally contains sugar ... But fruit also offers benefits like vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, and has less sugar by volume. Added sugar, on the other hand, has no nutritional benefit and tacks on a lot of calories."

In a fascinating article published in The Telegraph, Dr. Robert Lustig explains how specific calories -- namely, from added sugars -- count more than total calories.

"When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent," he says. "But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories."

That becomes a real concern when, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of Americans are obese and as many as one in three Americans could have diabetes by 2050.

Awareness becomes the first step towards change, and reducing added sugar intake could significantly reduce these and other health risks.

The FDA rule isn't yet official. No doubt, behemoth food companies will militantly fight it and, if it passes, develop crafty strategies to potentially confuse or mislead consumes. But it is definitely a step in the right direction and a victory for low-sugar impact advocates.

In fact, you can make huge gains toward your health and weight-loss goals just by identifying added sugar in the food you're currently eating and cut those foods -- and that sugar -- out.

Until the FDA's proposal passes, reading ingredient lists becomes the best way to bypass added sugars. My friend Jonathan Bailor lists 57 sneaky names, some of which you might never guess are actually sugar.

The easiest way to bypass sneaky sugars and potential labeling confusion: Eat a low-sugar impact, whole foods diet. You know quinoa or broccoli won't have any added sugars.

Still, I get it. Sometimes you're at the airport or just having a crazy day and sautéing broccoli isn't going to happen. On those occasions, when you go for processed foods, use my five-per-100 rule: No more than five grams of added sugar per 100-calorie serving (and the less the better, of course).

Do you agree that including added sugars on nutrition labels becomes a step in the right direction? Share your thoughts below.