Talking to Consumers About Added Sugar

Talking to Consumers About Added Sugar

January 31, 2018

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

Let’s start with an update on the compliance dates for the new Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP). The FDA has proposed to extend the compliance dates to Jan. 1, 2020 (for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales) and January 1, 2021 (for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales). Also note that, pending completion of this rulemaking, the FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to the current July 26, 2018, and July 26, 2019, compliance dates. That being said, the new labels are already appearing on many products and it’s a perfect time to start educating consumers on how to use the new label as they shop your store. 

One change that may cause consumer confusion is the inclusion of added sugar information. The new NFP will list added sugars in grams per serving, as well as the % DV contained within one serving of the food. Added sugars will include ingredients such as sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup and concentrated fruit juice. Although chemically identical to naturally occurring sugars, they provide an isolated calorie source without other beneficial nutrients. The dietary guidelines set a quantitative limit of less than 10% of calories from added sugar for the general population. The % DV is calculated by dividing the grams of added sugar in one serving of the food by 50 g of added sugar (representing 10% of total daily calories in a 2,000-calorie diet).

The goal is not to eliminate all added sugars but to minimize the consumption of empty and excess calories. However, without proper consumer education, the “demonizing” of added sugars in the media may lead consumers to make substitutions that are not actually healthier. Here are some ways to help consumers put added sugars into context and guide them to healthful food choices:

  • When educating consumers on label reading or nutrition it may be helpful to discern between the different parts of carbohydrate including natural sugar, fiber and the added sugar components. 
  • Communicate how sugar serves as a functional constituent of many foods. Sugar can balance flavors, improve texture, aid in the fermentation process of yeast-leavened breads, enhance browning, increase shelf-life or protect the color, shape, or nutrients in a food.
  • Encourage shoppers to look at the whole nutrient package that a product has to offer. For example, chocolate milk, dried cranberries and many ready-to-eat cereals each contain added sugar, but also contain several beneficial nutrients. 
  • Help consumers question if the sugar that is added to a product is actually leading to the intake of needed nutrients? For example, only 4% of the population meets the requirements for daily fiber intake, if a whole grain cereal has a bit of added sugar but is an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients it may be a good choice.
  • Remind shoppers to always ask themselves - what’s the total nutrient package of this food?

Supermarket dietitians are in the unique position of being on the “front lines” as consumers view product labels and make decisions about what goes into their cart. As you help your shoppers translate the science of nutrition into food choices you can help them stay focused on the big picture of identifying delicious, nutrient-rich foods that create a balanced diet.