FDA issues final guidance for listing added sugars on single-ingredient products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued final guidance on the declaration of added sugars on honey, maple syrup, and other single-ingredient sugars, syrups, and certain cranberry products, according to a statement released yesterday by the agency.

The guidelines provide clarification for companies that produce single-ingredient sugars and syrups, in addition to those who produce cranberry products. Single-ingredient sugars are intended to be consumed alone or added to foods by consumers, and thus will be an added sugar to the diet when consumed, according to the FDA.

The final guidance states that for single-ingredient sugars, nutrition labels must include a line for total sugars with the amount per serving expressed in grams. However, companies will only be required to provide a percent daily value for added sugars, though they may use of a “†” symbol immediately following the percent daily value, leading consumers to a statement that provides information about the gram amount of added sugars, as well as information about how that amount of sugar contributes to the percent daily value.

For example, if a single-ingredient sugar provides 10 grams of sugar per serving, manufacturers are encouraged to include a “†” symbol after the percent Daily Value declaration for Added Sugars that refers the consumer to information that reads, “One serving adds 10 grams of sugar to your diet and represents 20 percent of the Daily Value for Added Sugars.”

The FDA also provides information for certain cranberry products. Since cranberries are naturally tart and contain very little natural sugar, the manufacturers of these products frequently add sugar to make them more palatable. The makers of these products have stated that even after adding sugar, their products typically have the equivalent total sugar content of other fruit products that do not have sugars added.

In instances where sugar is added and it does not exceed the level in a comparable fruit product, such as cranberry juice cocktail as compared to unsweetened grape juice, the FDA says it will “exercise enforcement discretion” and allow the Nutrition Facts label to include a symbol that leads the consumer to a statement outside the Nutrition Facts label indicating that sugar has been added “because cranberries are naturally tart.” The statement can also indicate that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes language that there is room for limited amounts of added sugars in the diet, including from nutrient-dense foods like naturally tart fruit.

Alternatively, the statement could refer to the dietary guidelines’ recommended limit for added sugars of no more than 10 percent of calories, the FDA said. The FDA said the agency’s intent with this additional information is to help American consumers more easily understand how certain sweetened cranberry products can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.

The FDA says the goal with this final guidance is to help consumers understand that these single-ingredient sugars have no additional sugars added to them, while also conveying how their consumption will contribute to the amount of added sugars consumed in a day. Further, the FDA said it aims to help American consumers more easily understand how certain sweetened cranberry products can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.

The FDA began updating its Nutrition Facts label three years ago, emphasizing the information that consumers need to make better-informed decisions about their eating habits. As more Americans consume added sugars that exceed recommended limits—50 grams or about 12.5 teaspoons per day for those consuming 2,000 calories a day—the new label requires that the amount of and percent Daily Value for Added Sugars be declared.

After receiving feedback from companies that produce single-ingredient sugars and syrups, the FDA decide to make exceptions to its requirement and create guidance specific for manufacturers of these types of products. The FDA said companies raised concerns about how consumers would perceive the added sugars declaration on their product labels.

Additionally, the FDA cited the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or Farm Bill, which states Nutrition Facts labels cannot require the declaration of the gram amount of added sugars for single-ingredient sugars, honey, agave and syrups, including maple syrup. For maple syrup and honey especially, companies said consumers might misinterpret the added sugars label declaration to mean that manufacturers had added additional sugars to them, such as corn syrup or cane sugar.

Critics of the new guidance say the FDA is favoring convenience and making excuses for the manufacturers, leaving consumers to interpret the unnecessarily confusing labels. Others say, “sugar is sugar,” and the FDA should not adopt practices that make single-sugar products appear “healthier.” For integrative healthcare practitioners, becoming familiar with the new label structure, and the possible exceptions, is necessary in effectively coaching patients.   

In implementing the final guidance, the FDA says companies have until July 1, 2021 to switch to the new label. Other changes consumers are seeing on the new label include adjusted serving sizes, so that the amounts of calories and nutrients listed on the label more accurately reflect what is customarily consumed. Additionally, more nutrients, such as vitamin D and potassium, are now required on the label.

“The added sugars declaration is one more piece of information that consumers can use to make informed decisions about their diet,” said FDA representatives in a statement. “Our goal in issuing this final guidance is to help consumers better understand how consumption of single-ingredient sugars and certain cranberry products can be accommodated within recommended limits for added sugars in healthy diets.”