Last year here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we discussed a proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would redesign the Nutrition Facts label to list “added sugars” and “total sugars” separately. Added sugars are refined forms of sugar (such as white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, or honey) that are added to processed foods to increase their sweetness. Many nutrition experts — and the FDA — believe that it is important to limit added, rather than total, sugar in your diet, since there are health benefits associated with many foods that contain naturally-occurring sugar (such as fruits, cooked tomato products, and milk products).
According to a 2013 study published by the National Center for Health Statistics, added sugars account for over 14% of total calories consumed by both men and women between the ages of 20 and 39. This translates to 397 calories of added sugars for men and 275 calories for women. By contrast, the World Health Organization recommends a limit of 5% of total calories for added sugars, which is about 140 calories for men and 95 calories for women.
As we noted in last year’s piece on the FDA proposal, many large food manufacturers have come out against the redesigned label, including food giant Kellogg, which criticized the new label as confusing to consumers after conducting an online survey to see how well people could understand it. So it may have come as a surprise to many when last week, candy giant Mars Inc. declared its support for the redesigned label. According to an article published Friday in The Wall Street Journal, Mars came to its decision after conducting consumer research and concluding that “more information wouldn’t be harmful to consumers.” The company doesn’t plan, however, to include amount of added sugar on its labels unless the FDA passes the requirement.
Mars also expressed its support, in its letter to the FDA, for the recommendation by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — a group of nutrition experts that advises the government — that Americans limit added sugars to 10% of their daily calories. In explaining the company’s support for these policies, Mars’s global head of research and development said that candy “shouldn’t be consumed too often, and having transparency of how much it should be consumed is actually quite helpful to consumers.”
What’s your take on this seemingly unlikely support for added-sugar labeling — is Mars simply trying to be a good corporate citizen? Or is it more likely that it has business interests under consideration — believing, for example, that it will gain good publicity from these positions, or that people might actually buy more candy if labels indicate they can eat a certain amount of it each day? Does it matter what the company’s motivations are, if the end result is positive? Do you support the FDA’s proposed labeling of added sugars? If the redesigned Nutrition Facts label with “added sugars” goes into effect, do you think it will affect your shopping or eating habits? Leave a comment below!