Consumers already know that everything from baked goods and barbecue sauce to dressings, desserts, and deli meats can be sugar delivery vehicles in disguise. What they may not know, however, is that some of their favorite functional foods and beverages—products designed expressly to be “good for you”—may be packed with plentiful added sugars, too.
Yet if consumers have been enjoying their protein bars, energy beverages, and even their chewable vitamin gummies in a sort of ignorant-of-the-added-sugars bliss all this time, the scales may fall from their eyes once FDA’s new “added sugars” line starts appearing on Nutrition Facts panels.
When it does, fans of functional foods and drinks may be in for an unpleasant surprise. For while sugar levels in functional products “vary widely,” notes Jonathan Hopkinson, PhD, senior applications scientist, DuPont Nutrition & Health (New Century, KS), beverages can be as much as 15% sugar and higher; energy bars are often 30% sugar, or 16 g per 50-g bar; and protein bars and energy shots have sugar levels that regularly top 23% and 30%, respectively, Hopkinson says.
Of course, functional formulators don’t use all this sugar just to trick their loyal consumers. And many brands have been hard at work bringing levels down. But it’s no easy task. In functional formulations and elsewhere, “every ingredient is in there for a reason,” says Andy Estal, technical manager, NAFTA region, Beneo (Morris Plains, NJ). That’s especially so with sugar. “So when you’re trying to reduce the amount of sugar in these formulations, you need to replace it with something, or a combination of ingredients, that has the same attributes as sugar,” he says. And that’s a search that will keep functional formulators busy for some time.
In case you, too, had been blissfully ignorant of the coming changes to the Nutrition Facts panel, let’s recap: Last May, FDA announced that by July 26, 2018, said panels “will require the declaration of the gram amount of ‘added sugars’ per serving, establishing a Daily Reference Value, or DRV, for added sugars, as well as providing the percent daily value,” says Satya Jonnalagadda, director of nutrition, Kerry (Beloit, WI). And lest supplement makers breathe a sigh of relief at having missed the new requirement by that much: they haven’t. “The final FDA Nutrition Facts label rules apply to both conventional foods and dietary supplements,” Jonnalagadda says. FDA has since announced that it will extend the July 2018 compliance deadline but has not yet announced a new deadline for compliance.
You can’t blame FDA for making the change, as scientific consensus holds that Americans really should reduce their caloric intake from added sugars—a consensus supported by groups as diverse as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization. And considering that about 13% of the average American’s calories come from sugars, FDA hopes that knowing where those sugars lurk will make it easier for consumers to avoid them.
What’s in a Name?
But when you dig into what FDA actually defines as “added sugar,” you realize that such sugars are well-nigh inescapable, even in functional formulas. To wit, FDA deems as “added sugars” those “that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such,” including “sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.”
While this excludes 100% fruit or vegetable juice concentrate sold to consumers, as well the lactose naturally present in milk, falling within the definition’s scope are brown sugar, corn sweeteners, invert sugar, malt sugar, and molasses, as well as “natural” sugars like turbinado, cane-juice extract, brown-rice extract, agave nectar, rapadura, barley malt extract, sucanat, and palm and coconut syrups.
Such a big-tent classification “has been both a surprise and a source of confusion in the interpretation of the guidance,” Jonnalagadda concedes. “It’ll be very important to provide some clear guidelines for product developers to maintain consistency in how added sugar contents are determined, since there are no analytical methods to determine added sugar content in foods and beverages.”