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We all know that we should be cutting back on sugar, but it's hard to do - not just in terms of willpower, but knowing how much sugar our foods actually contain. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a change to the way sugar is labeled. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the new nutrition facts label would make it easier for people to track their sugar intake.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It's pretty hot this time of year in the nation's capital, and when I met David Brownback, who was visiting from Stonington, Ill., he was looking for something to quench his thirst. He's not a big fan of water, so his daily beverages of choice....
DAVID BROWNBACK: Pepsi or Sprite. Usually I get one first when I get up. I just like the taste of it.
AUBREY: And he says he drinks a lot of them every day.
BROWNBACK: At least six or seven of them.
AUBREY: Six or seven sodas.
AUBREY: Have you heard the advice to cut back on sugar?
BROWNBACK: Every day.
AUBREY: What do you make of that?
BROWNBACK: I really don't care right now. Usually when I want one, I'm going to get one.
AUBREY: Like David, many Americans don't pay much attention to how much sugar they consume. But if you are someone who look at nutrition labels, you might, well, be confused. Here's Jim O'Hara. He's director of Health Promotion Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
O'HARA: The current nutrient text label is very confusing when it comes to sugar. A consumer looks at it and sees grams, and most consumers don't know what that means.
AUBREY: For instance, a 20-ounce bottle of soda is listed as having 65 grams of sugar. But it's hard to picture how much that it is. It's also hard to know whether that 65 grams is more or less than we should be aiming for in a day. We'll get to that in a moment. But to address this, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a change to the food label. In addition to requiring companies to list grams of added sugar on food and beverage labels, they would also need to declare what percentage it is of the recommended daily limit.
O'HARA: The proposed label will tell them that that 65 grams is 130 percent of the added sugar they should consume each day.
AUBREY: In other words, it's more than what they're supposed to be taking in.
O'HARA: Way more than what they should have.
AUBREY: That daily limit is based on the premise that we should be getting no more than 10 percent of our total calories from added sugars. These include all the sweeteners that food companies put into their products. That limit does not include sugar from fruits and other foods, which are naturally sweet. In announcing the new proposal today, the FDA says it has a responsibility to give Americans the information they need to make informed decisions. And the agency pointed to a growing body of evidence, linking excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages to a higher risk of disease. David Ludwig, of Boston Children's Hospital, says multiple studies have now shown that if you overwhelm the body with added sugars found in sweetened drinks and foods, there can be serious consequences.
DAVID LUDWIG: Every time we consume a sugary drink, blood sugar rises rapidly and that places stress on the insulin-producing cells in the body. And that stress could push those cells over the edge and ultimately lead to Type 2 diabetes.
AUBREY: The FDA says it's seeking public comment on the new sugar label for the next 75 days, and it's likely the agency will hear from food companies. The Sugar Association has already weighed in, questioning whether the move to limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories is backed by adequate science. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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