Niki Bezzant: No more sugar-coating labels

FDA rules make it easier for consumers to see how much sugar is in their food. Photo / Getty Images
FDA rules make it easier for consumers to see how much sugar is in their food. Photo / Getty Images

Last week good news came for those interested in commonsense food labelling. The FDA has announced changes to nutrition information on food labels in the US. The key updates are a change to how sugar is listed, and a change to serving-size information. We'd do well to adopt them here.

We're talking a lot these days about sugar on labels. Sugar is a demon for good reason: most of us eat too much of it.

The WHO says we should get no more than 10 per cent of our daily energy from added sugars. But how can you tell how much of the sugar in a packaged food is added and how much is natural?

But on the new American food labels, added sugars will be stated separately. That means consumers will be able to tell how much added sugar is in a food and what percentage of their daily energy is coming from that sugar.

On a can of fizzy drink, for example, total sugar might read 39g. Added sugar would also read 39g and you'd see this also represents around 78 per cent of your daily added sugar.

It's not ideal to exclusively focus on any one thing in food - we need to always remember the big picture - but this is still an excellent move.

In foods like yoghurt it will be especially useful, since some of the sugar is naturally occurring lactose, much less worrisome than added sugar.

This change will also keep food manufacturers in check with their marketing claims.

I have noticed a trend lately of misleading language about sugar on labels. Claims like "no refined sugar" and "no added sugar" are becoming common.

But turn over the packets, and you'll often find honey, fruit juice, fruit puree or coconut sugar, all of which are added sugar. The new label will unmask that.

The FDA also requires realistic serving sizes, to reflect, it says, the "amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating".

In New Zealand, where a serving size is whatever the manufacturer says it is, this would be a positive change. Gone would be the un-resealable snacks that "serve two". Drinks containing "2.7 serves" would be a thing of the past.

Many of us read food labels but understanding them is another matter. Clarity would be a very good thing.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.

- Herald on Sunday

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