Confusion about to hit honey, maple syrup, and other sweetener labels

Blame the food industry.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced that Nutrition Facts labels on honey, maple syrup, table sugar, and other "single-ingredient" sweeteners will soon look like this:

nutrition facts label with blank added sugars line

Wondering what that blank line with the 34% means? You're probably not alone.

On other food labels, that line would list added sugars. For this honey label, for example, it would say "Includes 17g Added Sugars," which is 34% of a day's worth (the Daily Value) for added sugars.

That's because all of the sugars present in honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and, well, sugar—whether it's white, brown, turbinado, coconut, or any other sugar—are empty calories that count toward the Daily Value (50 grams).

Here's why the "Includes 17g Added Sugars" line got erased.

Industry lobbyists (namely, the honey and maple industries) argued that people would think that companies had added more sugar to their syrup, honey, or whatever.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action's publisher, urged the FDA to keep the added-sugars line. For starters, companies had other, more visible ways to make clear that the honey or maple syrup had no extra sugar added to it. (They could use label claims like "100% pure honey" and include an ingredient list with a single ingredient: honey.)

But no extra sugar doesn't mean low in sugar. The usual one-tablespoon serving of honey has about a third of day’s added sugar. A typical two-tablespoon serving of maple syrup has half a day’s added sugar.

But industry got Congress to keep the FDA from requiring the words "Includes ___ g Added Sugars" on labels.

We're glad that the FDA kept the percent Daily Value (DV) for added sugars listed somewhere on those products, which now have until July 2021 to start using the new Nutrition Facts label. But if the new look leads some shoppers to assume that the blank line is a mistake, or if it leads them to ignore the DV or miss the tiny (optional) footnote that explains that those sugars still count as "added"...that's a shame.

The bottom line

Make no mistake. When you see a "___ %" on a blank line below "Total Sugars," that tells you how much of a day's worth of "Added Sugars" you're getting from each serving.

Photos: art-rachen/ (honey), FDA (label).