Twisting the Definition of Added Sugars

You might think that “added” means just what it says. But we’re finding out that this might not be the case when we’re talking about added sugars. Cranberry, honey, and maple syrup makers are finding out that added is supposed to mean bad. So it seems like FDA may end up twisting the definition for added sugars to conform with political reality.

Maple Syrup and Honey

Maple syrup and honey are two completely pure and natural products. And naturally, they contain gobs of sugar. No one adds it. It’s just there. But, says nutrition economist Sean Cash:

In the diet, honey or maple syrup is an added sweetener. Typically, you put a squeeze of honey into your tea and you put maple syrup on your pancakes. The FDA wants to highlight that these are added sugars in the same way that powdered white cane sugar would be.

In other words, this is sugar you don’t need. Bad sugar. Avoid it.

FDA is trying to placate the honey and maple syrup lobby by letting them add a footnote to their Nutrition Facts label. “All these sugars are naturally occurring.” However, the maple and honey folks are definitely not satisfied. Maple syrup producer Roger Brown sums it up:

It’s offensive. To have the government say, “No, this makes sense,” when it doesn’t. And then talk to everyone else who says it’s stupid.


Cranberry growers have been ticked about the requirement to disclose added sugars since it was first proposed. That’s because they really do add lots of sugar to their products. Cranberries are so sour that no one would eat them otherwise.

So the growers squawked and scored a bigger concession. They get a footnote saying “there is room” for a little added sugar in cranberries because they’re so good for you. Marion Nestle says we should chalk this up as a win for the cranberry lobbyists.

Added Means Added

Maybe Nestle is right about the lobbying. But if you believe in simple, clear labeling, then we’re all losers on this one. Added means added. It’s simple enough. Pure maple syrup has no added sugar. It is sugar. Maple sugar. Straight from nature. On the other hand, Ocean Spray is definitely adding sugar to their products. It’s not bad. It’s just true.

Facts are facts. We need factual labeling, not moral judgments.

Click here for more from the Boston Globe and here for more from Food Navigator USA.

Cranberries, photograph © catharticflux / flickr

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June 14, 2018

5 Responses to “Twisting the Definition of Added Sugars”

  1. June 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm, Charles Baker said:

    Ted, your penultimate and ultimate sentences perfectly encapsulate the ongoing circular arguments swirling around sugars labeling. This debate will continue until pharmacology methods become routine experimental design elements. Dietary sugars research needs to follow the example of dietary lipids research. Data on the acute and chronic physiological kinetic and dynamic influences of individual sugars and their mixtures may well prevent this current complex debate from escalating to an ad hominem distraction. Charlie

  2. June 14, 2018 at 5:39 pm, Katie Balantekin said:

    Ted, do you know what they’ll do about a honey bear or bottle of maple syrup? To me, this is not added sugar, nor the same as adding honey/maple syrup to other products.

    • June 14, 2018 at 7:40 pm, Ted said:

      The honey bear and the bottle of maple sugar is precisely what they’re proposing to label as 100% added sugar. Mind boggling.

  3. June 15, 2018 at 11:53 am, Jennie Brand-Miller said:

    Sugar cane is a tropical grass. Squeezing the juice out of sugar cane, then evaporating the water, is not so different from collecting nectar from flowers and evaporating the water to make honey. Bees do this for a living.

    • June 16, 2018 at 2:57 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Jennie. It’s remarkable how polarizing the subject of sugar has become. A sugar derangement syndrome has swept the globe..