I have a confession to make.
Yes, I am a passionate Sugar Awareness advocate, who has no problem writing, blogging and speaking on the topic. However, historically speaking, I’m just not all that good when it comes to the whole participatory democracy thing. I mean, like everybody, I have issues I care about – besides sugar even! I vote. I watch debates. I pay attention. But whenever I am advised to “call/email your representative today!”- do I? No. Not even once.
I’m not proud of this, mind you. But it’s true: I feel too… shy to call. And, if I’m honest, a bit afraid. Afraid to navigate whatever rat maze they’ll surely have set up for anyone foolish enough to attempt entering the debate. That I won’t know the lingo because I don’t speak Politics. I talk myself out of it: maybe they’ll put someone on the phone to argue with me! Maybe they’ll put me on a list! Maybe I’ll just feel like an idiot.
I hate feeling like an idiot.
So here’s the thing: right now there’s something huge going on in the world of Sugar. You probably don’t know about it, because, despite the fact that Sugar Awareness has been gaining increasing momentum, nevertheless I have seen almost no reporting in the media about the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration is considering major changes to the way the nutrition facts label talks about sugar.
You know the nutrition facts label- that’s the little box on the side of every food package that lists how much of your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) one serving of this product contains; 6 ounces of Dannon Coffee Yogurt, for example, contains 2.5 grams of fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 grams of sugar, etc.
Very, very few of us really know how to interpret this data. In fact, I’d venture to say that nobody does, except perhaps your nephew’s girlfriend who is studying to be a nutritionist.
So when, for example, the World Health Organization changes its recommendations about how much sugar we should all be consuming on a daily basis (or rather, beyond which amount we should not be consuming)- which it recently did last March, halving it’s previous recommendations, it makes news, but who knows how to interpret it?
The WHO lowered the advised daily limit of sugar from 10 to 5% of total calories. I wrote a whole blog post about this that you can read here- http://eveschaub.com/2015/04/20/the-upshot-or-what-who-wont-tell-you/ but the upshot is this: the average person should not consume more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Back to our Dannon Coffee Yogurt: our nutrition facts label says 25 grams of sugar per serving. Which presents two problems: the first is the fact that who the heck knows how many teaspoons 25 grams amounts to?
The second problem is the fact that some of these sugars are surely lactose- milk sugars- which are not fructose, and not part of the FDA’s 6 teaspoons per day recommended limit.
So what do we do? Give up, make a joke about how modern eating is too damn difficult, and eat the yogurt. Right?
But, if approved, the FDA’s current proposal will change all that, so pay attention cause this is Super Cool (to food nerds like me) and, more importantly will make our sugar-sleuthing lives orders of magnitude easier:
- There will be a new line, underneath the “Sugar” line, which lists separately “Added Sugars” (see illustration).
What this means is that instead of memorizing the over 61 different names for sugar (what I call “The Sugar Alphabet,” which you can find here: http://eveschaub.com/resources/ ) you will have to look no further than this one simple line. If it is added sugar (read: extracted fructose) you will find it here.
Additionally, it will not include those “sugars” that are not fructose (and therefore IMHO not to be unduly fretted over), such as glucose and lactose. Then we will be able to easily see that of the 25g of “sugar” in our Dannon Coffee Yogurt, 13g comes from added sugar and that other 12g comes from lactose. Hooray for clarity!!
But wait, it gets better:
- Now, for the first time ever, the Nutrition Facts Label will list a Recommended Daily Allowance for sugar, just as it already does for fat, cholesterol, sodium and so on. Yes!
No more wondering what the heck 25 grams of sugar- or 13g of added sugar- in your Dannon Coffee Yogurt really means. It means, 3 teaspoons. And so, right there on the label it will tell you that your yogurt contains 50% of your Recommended Daily Allowance for Sugar.
Wow. Yep. What this tells us is that we’d be better off treating flavored yogurts such as Dannon Coffee Yogurt as dessert than as a healthy snack. One little alteration to the information facts label can suddenly give us a whole new understanding of our food.
Do you want these changes? Do you want people to be able to know that a can of Coke- all by itself- is nearly twice their Recommended Daily Allowance for sugar? I sure do.
So here’s the hard part: NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THE FDA THAT WE WANT THIS. Now, that first part- the part about making a new “added sugars” line? The period for public comment on that has ended. (See? I wasn’t kidding when I told you I’m terrible at this.)
But the second proposal- the one to include an RDA for sugar- is open for public comment until October 13, 2015. Seriously, if I- the admittedly democratically-handicapped- can do this, you can definitely do this. I’ve even made a cheat sheet below to make it ridiculously, super easy. If it takes you more than three minutes I will be surprised. Here is what you do:
Step One: Go to this link: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2012-N-1210-0537
This is the page for submitting your comment on the proposal to add an RDA for sugar.
Step Two: Click on the comment box. Here is where you type your opinion on this proposed change. If you are like me, and get flummoxed easily at this point, you can copy and paste this:
As an individual consumer, I am very much in favor of the proposed change to the Nutrition Facts Label, specifically that it will now list % daily value for added sugars.
Sugar acts like a toxin- a chronic poison- that over time does substantial damage to the health of the human body. Our society’s ever-escalating consumption of sugar, specifically added sugars, is responsible for, or related to, practically every major modern health epidemic that we suffer from today: from diabetes and obesity, to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, liver disease, hypertension, and even cancer.
Changing the Nutrition Facts Label in this way will give consumers much needed information about the amount of sugar in food products within the established framework of a recommended percent daily value, so they can more easily make informed and healthier choices.
Step Three: Fill in the boxes for first and last name, (or, you can leave it blank in order to be anonymous) and, if you want to, check the box for contact information and fill out with your e-mail and/or zip code. Unless you work for the Sugar Association of America, make sure “I am submitting on behalf of a third party” is unchecked.
Step Four: Under “Category” select “Individual Consumer.” (Then, be amazed at all the Special Interest Groups that are listed here.) Click “Continue.”
Step Five: It will now show you a preview of your comment. Near the bottom of the page it says : “You are filing a document into an official docket. Blah blah blah… may be publicly viewable on the web.”
When you are ready, click “I read and understand the statement above.” And then “Submit Comment.”
Step Six: The next page instructs you to do a little dance, or possibly give yourself a modest high-five because you are very proud of yourself. Okay, well it should. What it actually does is give you a “comment tracking number” so you can go back and see if your comment has been posted on regulations.gov. You can also check a box if you want to be emailed a “receipt” for your comment.
Good luck finding where on earth all those comments go. I tried hunting around the regulations.gov website for sugar proposal comments and came up instead with fascinating discussions on “Importation of French Beans and Runner Beans From the Republic of Kenya” and the “National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.” (Since I’m on a roll, clearly, these will be the next items I comment on.)
But at last I did find the correct page. And to save YOU the trouble here is the link to it here:
Now, I still couldn’t find the comments, but do you know what I did find? On the right hand side there is a box tallying “Comments Received” on this topic. Do you know how many comments had been received on this issue- this deeply important issue as to the clear labeling of added sugars (read: chronic toxins) in our food- as of this writing?
Wow. Seriously, it is a deeply awesome and humbling thing to be able to participate in our democracy. And when you’re talking about 196 comments? Participation is no illusion.
So go do it. Now. I swear it will feel good. And if you have an extra thirty seconds post a comment here saying you did; let’s see how high we can ratchet up that comment-o-meter before October 13th. It might just make a really big difference.