Most of the organizations arguing against the research and proposal are those which represent food manufacturers (shocking, right?). They claim that because natural and added sugars are the same chemically that there is no need to differentiate them on the label.
My opinion? This is something we definitely need on labels! While it’s true that natural and added sugars are structurally the same in terms of chemistry, it’s hardly fair to say that there’s no reason to differentiate them. Natural sugars are present in items like fruits, vegetables and dairy. In addition to sugar though, these items are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Added sugars, on the other hand, are typically added purely for taste (and sometimes for preservation purposes) and really add nothing nutritious to the food.
And of course, the challenge of understanding added sugars becomes even more difficult for combination foods. Consider a yogurt parfait, for example. Is it plain yogurt or is it vanilla? How much sugar is naturally from the yogurt versus any flavoring? What about the fruit? Is it fresh fruit or is it fruit that’s been in a syrup? Is there granola on the parfait? How much sugar was added to that? Confused? Me too. Much more confused than being able to look at the label and say – okay, there are so-and-so grams of added sugar outside of what’s naturally found in the food.
Now, is it bad for us to have a little added sugar each day? No, but it needs to be something that needs to be consumed in moderation. The recommendations for your daily limit of added sugar (from both foods and drinks) are generally based on your calorie level. For a 2000 calorie diet, the USDA recommends no more than 130 calories from added sugar. This is equal to about 32 grams of sugar or 8 teaspoons. Sound like a lot? You’d be surprised when you start adding up the added sugar in many foods and drinks – most people consume more than the recommendation! 8 teaspoons is less than the amount of sugar in one can of soda.
We should also be choosing nutrient rich foods that perhaps have just a small amount of sugar added for taste. Let’s take cereal for example - one of my favorite tasting cereals, these little oat and wheat squares, has 9 grams of sugar (and I’m going to assume just about all is added) in a 1 cup serving. While that added sugar isn’t great for me, that 1 cup also is made from whole grains, has 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and a handful of vitamins and minerals. You take away that sugar and the cereal would probably taste like crap – so there's a trade off there. As long as most of the other items I'm eating during the day aren't high in added sugar, it's probably fine for me to have a serving of this cereal.
The bottom line: Labels identifying the amount of added sugar would be helpful for consumers, even despite possible risk of confusion (especially since it's confusing now without the label!). Until that time comes, choose whole, unprocessed foods for maximum health benefits and minimal added sugar. When you do choose foods with added sugars, make them nutrient-rich choices.