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FDA Is Cracking Down on the Labeling of Alternative Sweeteners

The agency is exploring how it can increase transparency on foods containing alternative sweeteners.
artificial sweetener

The FDA is currently accepting public comments about how it can improve the nutrition labeling of sweeteners that aren't metabolized by the body in the same way as sugar found in foods and beverages.

The agency established this new docket largely in response to a petition filed in June by the Sugar Association, which requested several changes to labels of products containing alternative sweeteners. More specifically, the industry's science group wanted the FDA to provide consumers with more transparency about which alternative sweeteners are included in products, as well as the amounts. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time)

With food manufacturers increasingly shifting toward using less traditional sugar in products, the docket's introduction is timely. To parallel the sweet flavor, some manufacturers turn to alternative or non-nutritive sweeteners, which are reported to be between 200 and 400 times sweeter than table sugar. The Sugar Association argues that under current labeling conventions, products with these types of sugar-free sweeteners are (in some cases) wrongly labeled as "all natural" and "no sugar added," which may confuse consumers into thinking the product doesn't include any sweeteners at all.

While the docket doesn't entirely address the association's concern, it does address calls for more clarification surrounding the effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on the body, specifically those which are metabolized differently than sugar. The three sweeteners up for question are allulose, D-tagatose, and isomaltulose. However, the docket omits sugar alcohols such as erythritol, sorbitol, and xylitol, which are often found in keto-friendly packaged food items. On some product labels, though, sugar alcohols can be found listed separately on the nutrition facts label. (Related: 7 Hidden Messages on Packaged Food Labels You're Not Noticing)

Consumers are interested in learning about the ingredients manufacturers put into their food, according to research conducted by the Sugar Association. In an online poll that garnered responses from more than 1,000 adults, two-thirds of participants said it was important for them to know how their food was sweetened. Additionally, two in five consumers responded that it was very important to know if sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners were present in their food. Finally, a majority of those polled said they would prefer to have ingredients clearly spelled out on labels with simple equivalents provided next to each chemical name.

Before federal rulemaking can occur, the FDA will continue to accept comments on this docket for 60 days (beginning on Oct. 19). However, the election may allow for even bigger changes in sweetener labeling, as it could welcome a new administration with a different perspective.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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