The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) most recent report on Front of Package Labeling reflects a surprising reversal of its 2010 Phase I science-based recommendation on sugars, in which the panel concluded that total or added sugars were not one of the “most pressing diet-related health concerns.”

Now, in Phase II, the IOM panel has ignored this scientific approach regarding sugar intake. In doing so, it has disregarded the conclusion of another IOM panel and the European Food Safety Authority that there is no scientific evidence supporting an upper intake level for total or added sugars.

If added sugars were to be included on the Front of Package labeling, it could incentivize manufacturers to replace natural sugars with chemically produced artificial sweeteners and bulking agents, which will provide few, if any, nutritional advantages or significant caloric reductions overall. For example, a mother shopping for all three ratings on any given label will undoubtedly be serving more artificially sweetened products to her children in an attempt to avoid natural “added” sugars.

The proposed added sugars rating fails to provide clarity about what a healthful choice is and will lead to consumer confusion. For example, according to the IOM rating system, an artificially sweetened diet soda is a better choice than 1% milk; toasted oat cereal is a better choice than bran flakes with raisins; and an artificially sweetened ice cream is a healthier choice than a naturally sweetened yogurt.

This rating system is not only impractical, it’s a step backward in the efforts to educate consumers about important food choices. Much like the failed messages of the low-fat decade of the 1990s, Americans will be misled into purchasing foods based on the absence of added sugars rather than evaluating their total caloric intake and nutritional value.

The continued emphasis on specific ingredients will only continue to prolong the real problem – caloric imbalance. We must stop looking for something to blame and start helping consumers make the most natural and healthful decisions.

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