Sugar Addiction and Nutrition Labels: Foodie Underground


ColumnWould a revamped nutrition label help us deal with our sugar addiction?

When you grab a food product off the shelf, do you look at the nutrition label?

Chances are you do, but statistically more people look at the general nutrition facts than they do the ingredients. Our misunderstanding of nutrition makes it so that we’ll be tempted by something that has zero calories, zero fat, zero anything, and we’ll forget about what the thing was actually made with. A food product might have a bunch of zeros in it, but if you get to the ingredients and there’s a whole bunch of sugar, or a whole bunch of things that sound like sugar, you might as well throw the whole thing out.

Sugar is bad for you. There’s just no way around it. But beyond it being bad for you, it’s addictive, meaning that the more you consume, the more you consume.

As Americans, we consume a lot of it. The real sugar threat comes from added sugars, any sugar that has been added to a product that wasn’t naturally there before–that includes natural sweeteners. If you’re sweetening something, you’re adding sugar. While some of us may add a little sugar to our coffee, the serious problem comes in all that additional stuff used to sweeten processed foods. Flavored yogurts, sports drinks, condiments, even seemingly healthy granola… the list goes on. We are literally inundated with added sugar every time we go to the grocery store.

This is problematic given that in the United States we get 16 percent of our daily calories from added sugars. The World Health Organization recommends that globally, we need to get it down to 5 percent.

So the FDA has decided that it might be time to change the nutrition labels. Since people don’t always read through the ingredient list and have a reaction to items like high fructose corn syrup and dextrose, an easier way to make sure people know how much they are eating is simply to label whether or not a food product has added sugars in it.

Well that proposal sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Not if you’re in the sugar business. Making “added sugars” a line on the nutrition label wouldn’t be the only update, but it’s an update that people in sugar certainly don’t want. Eight trade groups are so vehemently opposed to the legislation that they wrote a letter to the FDA voicing their opinion and offered to fund a study on label effectiveness. Who are these groups?

  • American Bakers Association
  • American Beverage Association
  • American Frozen Foods Institute
  • Corn Refiners Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • Sugar Association
  • International Dairy Foods Association

Yup, Big Sugar.

Big Sugar is doing all that it can to make sure that we keep eating as much sugar as possible, tobacco industry style. Opposing labeling isn’t the only thing. They’ve also been known to misuse scientific data, even bury it, pour lobby dollars into local sugar debates, and feature misinformation on industry sites, all to mislead the public and keep them consuming – and addicted to – sugar.

As consumers, we deserve transparency. A label won’t stop someone from having a sugar addiction, but it will at least let them know if additional sugars have been added, and that kind of transparency is essential in a modern, developed society.

It’s going to take a lot to kick our sugar addiction, but maybe the first step is a big swift kick in the pants to Big Sugar. And that means the FDA pushing lobbying dollars aside and approving the new label.

Related on EcoSalon

12 Unusual Ways to Use Sugar (Without Eating It!)

5 Natural Sweeteners to Replace Sugar

10 Health Foods With More Sugar Than Coke

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: Raj Stevenson

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.