By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0724-Feature-Too sweet truth_Blog

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed Friday that a “percent daily value” for added sugars be part of nutrition labels on packaged foods providing consumers more information about how added sugar fits into their daily diets.

The information would be similar to what Americans have seen for decades on food labels about sodium and certain fats.

It is an addition to a larger proposal last year – and part of the debate between health advocates and food manufacturers – that could eventually add a new line to Nutrition Facts labels.

Currently, sugars already are required to be labeled on packages, but the FDA is also considering adding a line underneath declaring “added sugars.” That way consumers could tell the difference between what is naturally occurring in the food and what has been added in production.

“This is great. Now, let’s take the next step and get this done,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., immediate past chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and Robert L. Bickford, Jr. Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition and professor of medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “One of the big criticisms about adding sugars to the food labels was there were no daily values for consumers to put it into context. So, I think the FDA is actually strengthening the case for that by proposing this recommended daily value.”

On average, Americans eat 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production, according to the FDA.

When the agency proposed last March to insert “added sugars” on the nutrition panel, it didn’t have the scientific evidence to tell consumers how much was too much, Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said during a call Friday with stakeholders. Since then, the federal dietary guidelines panel recommended that the daily intake of calories from added sugars not exceed 10 percent of total calories. The FDA’s proposed daily value limits would be based on that, Mayne said.

“We realize that the label alone won’t magically change how America eats,” she said. “But we hope that for consumers who want to implement changes to their diet and lead a healthier lifestyle, it will provide them with the tools to be successful.”

Nancy Brown, AHA CEO, said that when Americans pull a product from the supermarket shelf they should “have a clear idea of how much added sugar that product really contains.”

She applauded the FDA’s actions saying that “many Americans consume more sugar than they realize. High intake of added sugars is a significant source of excess calories and is associated with higher body weight. Excess sugar consumption has also been linked with many risk factors for heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, inflammation and elevated triglyceride levels. “

The FDA is seeking public comment on the added sugar proposal for 75 days and is re-opening comment for 60 days on its March 2014 proposal to update the Nutrition Facts panel to include public comments on two consumer studies related to label formats.

Excess sugar has been linked to a variety of conditions and diseases, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. An emerging body of research has linked high intakes of added sugars to hypertension, dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood) and chronic inflammation.

A study published last year in JAMA: Internal Medicine showed added sugar was associated with higher risk of death by heart disease. Consumers who consumed 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent high risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent or fewer of their calories from added sugar. The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.

The American Heart Association has been warning for years about added sugar in diets and its contribution to increased obesity and troubling cardiovascular health. Its 2009 Scientific Statement about sugars recommends consumers limit added sugar to no more than half of their daily discretionary calories. For men, that’s no more than about 150 calories a day, or nine teaspoons; for women, it’s up to 100 calories a day or six teaspoons.

No one is telling consumers to limit the sugars they have in naturally occurring foods such as whole fruit and dairy products, said Johnson, who also was a lead author on the AHA’s 2009 statement. But the FDA’s proposal to focus on added sugars will help consumers make better choices across whole categories of foods, everything from cereals and yogurt to canned fruit and barbecue sauce.

“Biochemically, the sugars are the same,” she said. “But what is different is the food that has naturally occurring sugars are nutrient dense. When sugars are added to foods, all you are adding are calories, you are not adding nutrients.”

During the past 30 years, total calorie intake has increased an average of 150 to 300 calories per day, according to AHA’s 2009 statement, and about half of this increase is from liquid calories, mostly in the form of sugar-sweetened drinks and sodas. A typical 12-ounce can of cola has about 130 calories and 8 teaspoons of sugar.

The FDA also is proposing to change the current footnote on the Nutrition Facts label to help consumers understand the percent daily value concept. The proposed statement would say:

“The percent daily value (%DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

The current label requires the percent daily value be listed for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, calcium and iron.