Nutrition Facts Labels Should Include a Line for Added Sugar
Ostensibly, governments mandate labeling requirements for consumer benefit. They are there to help us make healthy food choices, to have awareness of what we are eating and feeding our kids, and to avoid foods to which we are allergic or might otherwise might make us ill.
However, food labels can also be incredibly misleading. Just look at this list of some of the different names for sugar that can be on labels. Look at this list of ingredients in Nabisco Wheat Thins, which include several types of sugar so that they don’t have to list sugar as high up in the ingredients list, and also so people won’t notice as much because it’s not all called “sugar.” These are things companies do to intentionally mislead consumers into thinking their product is healthier or less sugary than it really is.
When we look at ingredients labels, we notice there is a separate line for sugar. But there is nothing to indicate whether that sugar is naturally occurring or added. Take this label from Smooze Fruit Ice Simply Coconut flavor, for instance:
One might think that because Smooze is advertised as a healthy alternative to ice cream, that it would indeed be healthy. It is mostly fruit juice, so of course one would expect there to be some sugar. This flavor is 16.3% sugar, though, while pure coconut milk contains less than 3% sugar. Most people would probably be surprised to find out just how low in sugar pure coconut milk really is. They probably wouldn’t think twice about the amount of sugar in this “healthy” treat, let alone looking at the label and realizing that not only is cane sugar an ingredient, but maltodextrin and fructose are also sweeteners! This treat is 80% coconut milk, 16% added sugar, and 4% other things.
Of course, this happens to be a dessert, so the fact that it turns out to be high in sugar probably isn’t too surprising. But what about something we think is healthy?
In Australia, Weet-Bix is the ultimate breakfast cereal. It’s basically pressed whole wheat flakes and it is truly quite healthy, especially compared to what else is out there on the market! Let’s take a look at its nutrition label:
(I cut this off after sugars because that’s what I’m really interested in looking at right now.) Per 100 grams there are 3.3 grams of sugar. That’s really not much, as it is only 3.3% sugar. Most people would assume this sugar is all naturally occurring. They would be wrong! There is added sugar in Weet-Bix, which accounts for 2.9 of those 3.3 grams per 100. Whole wheat processed in this way naturally contains only 0.4% sugars. The rest is added.
okay, so Weet-Bix may not be universally recognized. Let me pick another victim, one that’s popular in the US, Australia, and around the world: Rice Krispies. (In Australia they are marketed as Rice Bubbles, but are the identical product.) Rice Krispies should be considered a really healthy cereal, right? They are just bland crisped rice. Not quite…
Let’s compare these two charts side-by-side. On the left is the nutrition facts for one ounce of plain puffed rice. On the right is the nutrition facts for one ounce of Rice Krispies. Look at the line for sugars. Plain puffed rice actually contains no sugar. All the sugar in Rice Krispies is added sugar. Indeed, like Weet-Bix, the second ingredient of Rice Krispies is sugar. This is not a phenomenal amount of sugar but it does prove the point that added sugar is hiding in almost everything we eat, even the “healthy” things!
What we need is a separate line on our nutrition facts panel showing added sugars. That would make it really easy for us as parents to look at the foods we are buying for our kids and to determine if they meet our standards or not. I don’t mind foods high in naturally occurring sugars, such as foods containing lots of fruit, but I do mind giving my kids refined and processed sugars. I am trying really hard to keep my kids from becoming addicted to sugar. Sadly, many kids today are unwittingly hooked on sweet stuff simply because their parents did not know they were feeding their kids foods with added sweeteners.
If we all advocate for this change, it will do a world of good. Not only will it enable us to make healthier food choices, but with their sugary not-so-sweetness out there in the open, companies will be much more likely to cut back on the amount of sweeteners added to their foods. Just adding this one line to the nutrition labels could be a great step toward inspiring healthy kids!
Please, write to your representatives in government to insist that this line be added to the nutrition facts label!