The inclusion of added sugars to the label was one of the biggest revisions. Nutrition advocates have long asked for that line on the label because it's impossible for consumers to know how much sugar in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and how much is added by the manufacturer. Think an apple vs. apple sauce, which comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties.
According to the Agriculture Department's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in U.S. diets. Though those naturally occurring sugars and the added sugars act the same in the body, the USDA says the added sugars are just empty calories while naturally occurring ones usually come along with other nutrients.
David Kessler, who was FDA commissioner when the first Nutrition Facts labels were unveiled in the early 1990s, said he thinks focusing on added sugars and calories will have a "demonstrative public health benefit."
Kessler said the added sweetness, like added salt, drives overeating. And companies will adjust their recipes to get those numbers down.
"No food company wants products to look bad," he said.
While some may ignore the panels, there's evidence that more people are reading them in recent years as there has been a heightened interest in nutrition.
A USDA study released earlier this year said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, up from 34 percent two years earlier. Older adults were more likely to use it.
Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mcjalonick
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