New Nutrition Label Puts Sugar Consumption in the Crosshairs

There are 20 grams of sugar in the package of dried mango I just ate at my desk while reading over the changes to the nutrition label announced by Michelle Obama and the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. That’s a little bit less than there are in eight ounces of Coca-Cola, which has 26 grams of sugar.


By far the biggest change to the nutrition information requirements are new regulations that will make it so dried fruit and a soda don’t look like nutritional equivalents: The new label will list added sugar and suggest a threshold for how much sugar people should eat, two changes that the food industry fought hard to not have included in the final label. So my bag of dried mango will still say that it has 20 grams of sugar, but it will also be noted that there are zero grams of added sugar. The Coke, on the other hand, contains 26 grams of added sugar—more than half of the daily recommended value for added sugar, which is set at 40 grams. 

A 12-ounce can of Coke, by the way, has 39 grams of sugar. Drink one, and you’re basically done for the day, sugar-wise. The new requirements will make that clear, as the first lady pointed out when she unveiled the label, which will appear on 800,000 food products nationwide.

The label overhaul features a larger font size for the calorie count, more realistic serving sizes (a pint of ice cream has three servings now, not four), “and most important of all, this label will tell you how much sugar in your snack was added during processing and how much came from ingredients like fruit,” Obama said. “You will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids.”

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(Image: FDA.gov)

Nutrition and public health experts are hailing the label. Marion Nestle, author of the book Soda Politics, called it “an extraordinary accomplishment” in a post on her blog. As sugar is increasingly seen as a major culprit in the obesity epidemic and the increased prevalence of diet-related diseases such as diabetes that it has sparked, various efforts—fromsoda taxes to public education campaigns—have sought to limit consumption. Now the nutrition label itself is more aligned with the goal of educating and limiting sugar consumption.

Which is not popular with the sugar industry and, to a lesser degree, the food industry.

"The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA," the Sugar Association, an industry trade group, said in a statement. "We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which strongly opposed the new version of the label when FDA first presented it as a proposal in 2014, said in a statement that the new label would confuse consumers and called for an education campaign to explain it to the public.

The food industry has two years to implement the new label (companies with less than $10 million in annual sales will have three years). The overhaul will cost an estimated $2 billion. The nutrition label made its debut in 1994 and has changed little in the decades since.

“The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices, one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement.

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