by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Nov 17 2015

Cheerios for Protein?

I laughed when I first saw the Cheerios box advertising Protein.  Protein is hardly an issue in U.S. diets—most Americans consume twice what they need—so this is clearly a marketing ploy.

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, was less amused.  Its scientists did the math and compared the protein to the amount in regular Cheerios.  They also looked at serving sizes.

  • Cheerios Protein: Protein 7 grams, Serving Size 55 grams
  • Cheerios regular: Protein 3 grams, Serving Size 28 grams

Hmm.  Not much difference, is there?

CSPI filed a formal complaint.

General Mills falsely and misleadingly markets Cheerios Protein to children and adults as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios. In fact, Cheerios Protein has only a smidgen more protein per serving than Cheerios, or 4 grams, which is only 5% of the average American daily protein intake. Most of that 4 grams is attributable to differences in serving sizes: Cheerios Protein has a bigger, 55 gram serving size, whereas Cheerios uses a 27 gram serving size. Two hundred calories’ worth of Cheerios Protein has a mere 7/10th of a gram more of protein than 200 calories’ worth of Cheerios.

Even worse, they looked at sugars.

  • Cheerios Protein: 17 grams sugars
  • Cheerios regular: 1 gram

As CSPI puts it:

Rather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar. Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar per serving, as Cheerios, which General Mills does not prominently disclose. 8. General Mills charges a price premium for Cheerios Protein.


Buzzfeed has a good discussion of this.

Caveat emptor (I seem to be saying this a lot lately).

Nov 12 2015

Candidate Cruz and sugar policy

I”m feeling wonky this morning and can’t resist commenting on Senator Ted Cruz’s remarks about the US sugar program.

According to BuzzFeed,

while railing against “corporate welfare,” Cruz singled out subsidies for the sugar industry — a policy Rubio has consistently, and controversially, supported despite objections by free-market critics.

“Sugar farmers farm under roughly 0.2% of the farmland in America, and yet they give 40% of the lobbying money,” Cruz said in the debate. “That sort of corporate welfare is why we’re bankrupting our kids, and grandkids.”

Chase Purdy of Politico quoted Cruz as saying “I would end those subsidies to pay for defending this nation.”

Only that’s not how the sugar program works. Subsidies for U.S. sugar producers are provided by consumers, through artificially high prices, rather than by the government. Rather than direct subsidies, the sugar program involves limiting import and supporting prices, leading to U.S. sugar prices that are higher than sugar on the global market.

Politico also investigated “40% of the lobbying money.”

Forty percent of what? It’s not clear. But it’s hard to imagine any way to get there. Total spending on lobbying was $3.24 billion last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Agribusiness spent $127.5 million, or about 4 percent. The sugar cane and sugar beets industry? $9.6 million, or 0.3 percent.

I love writing about our arcane sugar policies, which do indeed involve quotas and tariffs, but not subsidies.  The USDA explains sugar policies on its website.  The important ones:

Sugarcane growers have their own explanation of how the system protects them.

And because politics makes strange bedfellows, the Heritage Foundation’s explains how US sugar policies gouge US consumers, costing us more money than sugar consumers anywhere else.

From a public health standpoint, higher prices for cane and beet sugar aren’t all that bad if they encourage people to consume less.

But on a per person basis, the increased cost isn’t all that much: on the order of $10 per capita per year.

This explains the lack of public opposition to the policies.  They are hard to notice at the grocery store.

It also explains why  food companies prefer using high fructose corn syrup.  It’s cheaper.  Corn production, after all, does get subsidies for crop insurance.  But then, we use corn to make ethanol.

Aren’t ag policies fun?  No wonder candidates don’t understand them.

Nov 10 2015

Two reports: Who is Obese? How to Curb Global Sugar?

The first report is from the UK.   Fat Chance? Exploring the Evidence on Who Becomes Obese is a curious example of what happens when a sugar company (AB Sugar) partners with a health organization (2020 Health) to produce a policy document.

The report examines the role of age, gender, socioeconomic factors, the built environment, mental health and disability, sleep, bullying and child abuse, smoking, ethnicity, and religion as factors in obesity—everything except diet and activity levels.

The press release for the report gives key findings, among them:

  • Obesity rates are rising rapidly among the poor as well as other groups who experience social instability.
  • Uncertainty seems to be a significant factor for weight gain.
  • Fast food outlets near working environments have a significant impact on the BMI of men; the lack of green space has an impact on obesity rates particularly among girls.
  • Half of all people suffering with psychosis are obese.
  • Parental obesity, especially in mothers, is a far more predictive factor in childhood obesity than is ethnicity.

Its authors write:

What is particularly highlighted in recent research, though rarely explicitly stated, is that obesity rates seem to be deeply influenced by social change (not just influences within static social categories). The studies we have compiled for this review show a subtle trend that has become increasingly evident over the last decade. It is highlighted in economic mobility, rising rates of mental illness, technological habits and engagements, and rapidly shifting urban ground. Argued here, broadly speaking, is that many of these categories strongly hint to a meta-structure that remains profoundly under-researched and largely ignored. This is the structure of uncertainty, a type of habitus that influences the terms of emotional engagement between an individual and their daily life. Insidiously, it undermines health seeking behaviour by making daily decision processes cognitively intolerable and emotionally taxing.

They conclude:

…approaches to obesity that recognise and incorporate complexity might impact a host of rising health problems that affect communities across Britain. The same interventions that encourage healthy BMI may improve energy levels through metabolic process and sleeping habits, while reducing risk of mental health problems, diabetes and a range of other comorbidities not discussed in this report.

But they don’t say what those interventions might be.

Could they possibly have something to do with removing sugary drinks and foods from local environments?

For doing just that, the World Cancer Research Fund International has produced Curbing Global Sugar Consumption: Effective Food Policy Actions to Help Promote Healthy Diets & Tackle Obesity.

Examples of actions which have had these effects include school nutrition standards in Queensland, Australia; a vending machine ban in France; a front-of-package symbol that led to product reformulation in the Netherlands; soda taxes in France and Mexico; a programme targeting retail environments in New York City, USA; a programme promoting increased water consumption in schools in Hungary; school fruit and vegetable programmes in Netherlands and Norway; a healthy marketing campaign in Los Angeles County, USA and a comprehensive nutrition and health programme in France.

The first report asks us to solve problems of poverty, instability, and mental health before taking action to prevent obesity, even when actions are known to be effective.  The second calls for such actions now.

Could AB Sugar’s sponsorship possibly have something to do with this difference?

Oct 21 2015

Canada’s new government’s commitments on food and nutrition

The Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest also operates in Canada.  It issued a comment on the recent Canadian election.

Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has four years to implement his public health nutrition commitments.  He and his party have pledged to:

  • Introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec
  • Bring in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats, similar to those in the U.S., and to reduce salt in processed foods
  • Improve food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods
  • Make additional investments of $40 million for Nutrition North and $80 million for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Sounds like a new era indeed.  This will be interesting to watch.

Sep 25 2015

Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning): Delicious!

Here’s a sweet conclusion to this week’s sugar theme (#5):











How do bakeries do this?  I have no idea.

But this particular bakery at first refused to make the cake.

It worried about potential copyright violation (I’m not kidding).

Well, it’s too late to sue.  The evidence has been consumed.

Sep 24 2015

Sugar politics: A roundup of items

This week’s post about sugars #4:

Sugar politics is in the news and I’ve been collecting items about it.

  • U.K. consumers say sugar is their #1 food issue, beating out waste and salt.
  • The Florida sugar industry is giving generously to Republican presidential candidates.
  • Australian sugar growers are pushing for greater access to the U.S. sugar market through the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and are in part responsible for the impasse in signing it (this is not necessarily a bad thing).
  • U.S. candy makers are not happy about the suspension agreements brought against Mexican sugar imports.  These, they say, have raised the price of sugar.  Ordinarily, under NAFTA, Mexico is allowed to ship as much sugar to the U.S. as it likes, with no tariffs.  But Mexico agreed to new trade caps in return for not having to deal with antidumping investigations (isn’t trade fun?).
  • The Washington Post has a good summary of where we are on putting Added Sugars on food labels.
  • The FDA will take comments specifically on its Nutrition Facts panel studies, including controversial research on how well consumers would understand an added sugars label, the agency announced in a Federal Register notice.  The comment period is extended to October 15.
  • The FDA’s move follows a letter from law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz that criticized the agency for not taking comments on its consumer research.
Sep 23 2015

The benefits of eating candy. Who knew?

This week’s sugar item #3

John Downs, the president of the National Confectioners Association has an editorial (note: sponsored) in Politico announcing the NCA’s new campaign to convince Americans of the benefits of eating candy.

Candy is a special treat that has played an important role in cultural traditions, seasonal celebrations and family occasions here in the U.S. and around the world. But some consumers might not know that there is much more that goes into this honest, affordable, fun and transparent treat.

What more?  The economic benefits, of course.  Here’s the Infographic:

The press release highlights the benefits.

The confectionery industry directly employs 55,000 people in the United States, and more than 400,000 jobs in agriculture, retail, transportation and other industries rely in part on the sale of confections for their livelihood.  For every job that is created in confectionery another seven are supported in related industries, which means that candy drives a multiplier effect of 1:7 or an impact of 700 percent.

Sugar?  Calories?  Tooth decay?  Obesity?

Never mind.

Sep 21 2015

Sugars for toddlers: an invitational roundtable from The Sugar Association

This week, I’m going to be posting items about sugar politics.

Item on sugars #1:

Funny thing.  I was not invited to this event, but someone who was invited passed along the invitation.  You too will be sad you weren’t invited.

I am contacting you at the request of Dr. Courtney Gaine, VP of Scientific Affairs from The Sugar Association, regarding an invitational roundtable on The Role of Sugars in Supporting a Nutrient-dense Diet for Toddlers, 12 to 24 Months.  It will be sponsored by the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Department of Pediatrics, chaired by Dr. Ronald Kleinman from Harvard Medical School, co-chaired by Dr. Frank Greer from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and facilitated by Sylvia Rowe.  The roundtable is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from the Association….

Roundtable Objectives

  • Provide a forum to discuss the science and research voids on the role of sugars as a strategy that may help parents successfully transition their older infants and toddlers (12 to 24 months) from complementary infant foods to consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods from the family table.
  • Generate potential research ideas and questions on this topic for future guidance on the feeding of young children, including birth to 24 months, which is scheduled for integration into the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Create the impetus to extend this research to public-private partnerships with industry, academy and the government.

Proposed Topic Areas 

  • The roundtable has been tentatively divided into these 5 topic areas: 1) transitional toddler feeding and nutrition policy; 2) physiology; 3) sugars in toddler feeding practices; 4) parent-feeding strategies: emerging science; and 5) the research path forward….


The Sugar Association will reimburse you for all reasonable travel expenses, plus a $2,000 honorarium for your review of abstracts and presentations, which you will receive in mid-October, and your participation in the 1 ½ day roundtable.

This requires some translation.  I may be over-interpreting here, but as I see it, the Sugar Association is paying academics $2000 to implicitly endorse:

  • Promoting the use of sugar as a way to get toddlers to eat healthier foods.
  • Making sure the 2020 dietary guidelines say nothing about the need for kids to eat less sugar (we don’t even have the guidelines for 2015 yet).
  • Making sure that government agencies don’t advise or set policies to encourage eating less sugar.


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