FDA’s Proposed Added Sugar Labeling Creates Confusion

Originally Published: April 1, 2019
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
Feature image representing Food Law.

Anticipate turbulence ahead with the FDA’s proposed “added sugar” labeling! Changes to the Nutrition Facts label in order to accommodate FDA’s proposed “added sugar” labeling requirements are intended to help, but can also potentially confuse suppliers, manufacturers and consumers, noted Lauren Swann, MS, RDN, LDN, President and CEO of Concept Nutrition, Inc. Her presentation “An FDA Update: Sugar Ingredients’ Impact on Added Sugar” was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference  She added: “This poses a huge educational challenge for government, industry, academic and public health authorities.

Swann explained that, “this most recent revamp of FDA regulations is designed to support public health goals in line with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) recommendations, which (stipulated) that consumers limit their daily caloric intake from added sugars to 10% of total intake in order to reduce their risks of chronic heart disease.” Swann wondered why the DGAC focus was on sugar links to heart disease, rather than the more immediate public health risk posed by type II diabetes.

Formerly, Dietary Fiber and Sugars were listed under the designation of Total Carbohydrates in the nutrition label, which includes complex-but-easily-digestible carbohydrates, such as starches and maltodextrins. Under the new label requirements, Sugar is redesignated as Total Sugars, to which is added the sub-designation, Includes “x”g Added Sugars.

One problem, according to Swann, is that the numbers for dietary fiber and sugars may not calculate to total caloric value. “Consumers tend to equate carbs and sugars with calories.” The new Total Sugars and Added Sugars designations, which include both digestible and non-digestible mono- and disaccharides, must be listed irrespective of caloric content or digestibility—e.g., 0-cal/g erythritol versus sucrose. So, some sugars don’t get counted. Confused yet?

Dried fruits.

Fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps or purees do not need to be labeled as Added Sugar when added to maintain the fruit properties of products not generally considered to contain Added Sugar.

The new Added Sugars designation is defined as sugars “added during the processing of foods or packaged as such.” These include: honey and syrups; free sugars (mono- and disaccharides); and sugars from concentrated fruits and vegetable juices. As a result, “I have clients scrambling to get these ingredients out of their products,” said Swann.

Another complication is that, whereas there is no %Daily Value (%DV) for Total Sugars (which would be required to establish a defined regulation for a “low in sugar” claim), there is now one for Added Sugars, “which I find rather odd,” commented Swann. The new %DV is 50g per 2,000 calories.

Not labeled as Added Sugars are: fruit and vegetable juice concentrated from 100% juice to be reconstituted to single strength by consumers or processors; used toward meeting a required %-juice designation; used for oBrix standardization; or used in standardized preserves, jams, jellies and for the fruit component of spreads. “Neither are fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps or purees which maintain the fruit properties of products not generally considered to contain Added Sugar,” said Swann.

Reference oBrix values for common single-strength (unconcentrated) fruit and vegetable juices [21 CFR 101.30(h)], together with calculation models for determining added sugar values, can be found at the FDA’s website, said Swann. However, there may be ingredients and formulation scenarios beyond those addressed in these guidance documents. Accounting for changing sugar contents due to fermentation and enzymatic browning poses yet another challenge.

Unfortunately, there exists no laboratory methods that distinguish between sugars inherent in the product and added sugars, so manufacturers are obligated to maintain very detailed records at all regulatory compliance levels of the supply chain in order to demonstrate compliance.

In response to a question from the audience, Swann indicated that monk fruit (or luo han guo) juice, which contains sugar, but is 15-20X sweeter than sucrose, could be added to a product at single-strength without affecting its Added Sugar designation. “That would not be the case if it is added as a concentrate, (though).”

Swann commented that FDA Commissioner Gottlieb has indicated that the FDA is still looking for a final guidance on its proposed “added sugar” labeling, but that it would like to have everything finalized by early 2020. She strongly recommended that processors closely follow developments and continue submitting comments at https://www.regulations.gov.

“An FDA Update: Sugary Ingredients’ Impact on Added Sugar Labeling,” Lauren Swann, MS, RDN, LDN; President and CEO, Concept Nutrition, Inc.”

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to: https://sweeteners.globalfoodforums.com/category/sweetener-systems-rd-academy/

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conference Events at: https://sweeteners.globalfoodforums.com/sweetener-systems-events/