by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Jul 27 2015

Our endlessly arcane and unhealthy sugar policy

While we are on the topic of sugars (see previous post) I saw this ad on the Hagstrom Report.  I wondered what it was about.
sugar

I went to the American Sugar Alliance website to look.

Legislation introduced by Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) to end global sugar subsidies in favor of a free market has picked up key endorsements in recent weeks, including many conservative organizations and numerous lawmakers.

Yoho’s bill would instruct the administration to target the foreign sugar subsidies that are distorting world prices. Once foreign subsidies are eradicated, U.S. sugar policy would be eliminated.

If I understand this correctly, Congressman Yoho is offering a trade:  If foreign governments of sugar-producing countries will stop subsidizing their countries’ sugar producers, we will stop charging tariffs on the sugar we import from them and we will end our quota system for sugar beets, both of which keep U.S. sugar prices considerably higher than world market prices.

For decades, U.S. Presidents have pledged to fix sugar policies (see my post explaining how they work), but they always get stopped by the well organized interests of the U.S. sugar industry—the producers of cane and beet sugar.

Current policies result in higher sugar prices for consumers but since the higher costs average out to only about $10 per person per year, nobody gets too upset about them.

European sugar quotas are supposed to end this year.  Whether they will is uncertain.

But wait!  Maybe higher sugar prices are a Good Thing.  Higher prices generally discourage consumption.

Clearly, these higher prices are not high enough.  This graph shows trends in the availability (not really consumption) of sugars in the food supply per capita, in pounds per year.

Capture

The good news: Total sugars have been declining in the food supply since about 2000 and now “only” amount to about 100 pounds per person per year.

Most of the drop is in the availability of cane and beet sugars (sucrose), now down to just over 40 pounds per capita.

The not-so-good news:  Sucrose (glucose and fructose) is being replaced by corn syrup (glucose) and high fructose corn syrup (glucose and fructose).

The bottom line: just about everyone would be healthier consuming less of any kind of sugar.

Jul 24 2015

Good news: FDA proposes Daily Value for Added Sugars–10% of calories

The FDA announced this morning that it is proposing a Daily Value (the maximum) for Added Sugars on food labels—10% of calories.

Susan Mayne, FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explains the rationale: this is the percentage recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and practically every other health authority that has examined the evidence on sugars and health.

Ten percent of calories means 200 calories on a 2000 calorie daily diet, or 50 grams, or 12 teaspoons—the amount in one 16-ounce soda.

If you drink a 16-ounce soda, you have done your added sugars for the day.

If this seems abstemious, consider that 10% of calories is more generous than the amount recommended by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition:

It is recommended that the average population intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy for age groups from 2 years upwards.

The World Health Organization’s recent report on sugars and health also views 10% as the absolute maximum:

  • In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation).
  • WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation).

The WHO report explains:

The recommendation to further limit free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy intake, which is also supported by other recent analyses, is based on the recognition that the negative health effects of dental caries are cumulative, tracking from childhood to adulthood…No evidence for harm associated with reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 5% of total energy intake was identified.

Americans, on average, consume way more than 10% of calories from added sugars, so this recommendation means a sharp restriction.

It means consuming less of sugary products: sodas, baked goods, and all those packaged foods with added sugars.

The proposal is up for comment.

You can bet that there will be plenty.

Congratulations to the FDA for this one.  Let’s hope it sticks.

How to Comment

To comment on the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Label:

  1. Read the proposed changes.
  2. Starting Monday, July 27, 2015, go to Regulations.gov to submit comments.
Jun 26 2015

Sugar politics: a roundup of recent events

While I was visiting Cuba, formerly the largest supplier of sugar to the United States and now blocked from selling anything to us, I missed several stories about sugar.  It’s time to catch up with them.

On this last item the Post explains:

While other crop subsidies have withered, Washington’s taste for sugar has been constant. The sugar program, which has existed in various forms since the 1930s, uses an elaborate system of import quotas, price floors and taxpayer-backed loans to prop up domestic growers, which number fewer than 4,500.

Sugar’s protected status is largely explained by the sophistication and clout of a small but wealthy interest group that includes beet farmers in the Upper Midwest, cane growers in the South and the politically connected Fanjul family of Florida, who control a substantial part of the world sugar market.

Attempts to get rid of the sugar program have been constant, at least since the 1970s when I first started teaching about it, but to no avail.  Why not?  Because outrageous as the program is, it only costs the average American $10 per year—not enough to generate widespread opposition, apparently.

The bottom line on all this: eating less sugar is always a good idea.

Feb 22 2013

Kellogg’s Scooby-Doo: nutritionally groundbreaking?

Can something like this be nutritionally revolutionary?

 

Kellogg has just launched this cereal with just 6 grams of sugars per serving—half of what’s in most other cereals aimed at kids.

It’s also lower in sodium, but everything else about it looks pretty much the same:

http://www.kelloggs.com/content/dam/common/products/nutrition/124171.jpg

Will Kellogg put money behind this cereal and market it with the millions it spends to market Froot Loops?   Will it reduce the sugars in its other cereals?  Will other cereal companies do the same?

Or will Scooby Doo suffer the fate of Post’s no-added-sugar and otherwise unsweetened Alpha Bits introduced in around 2005?

http://www.chewonthatblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/11alphabits.jpg

Post put no money into marketing the cereal and dropped it after just a few months (Alpha Bits now has 6 grams of sugars per serving).

Let’s give Kellogg some credit for giving this a try.   I’ve looked for Scooby Doo in grocery stores but haven’t been able to find it.

I will watch its fate with great interest.

Update: Thanks to Cara for pointing out that with Scooby Doo, Kellogg adds a cereal to its portfolio that meets requirements of the WIC (USDA’s Women, Infants, and Children’s nutritional support program).  As Jessica, a Kellogg rep explains, “The benefit of this cereal is that it’s WIC eligible and boosts several vitamins and minerals, is low in fat, is a good source of fiber and vitamin D and an excellent source of iron.”

And thanks to an anonymous writer for pointing out that Scooby Doo is directly competing with General Mills’ Dora Explorer cereal for the lucrative WIC market, one that should amount to nearly $7 billion in 2013.  WIC specifies what the benefits can be used to buy.  Cereal companies want to be sure they are in that market.

Apr 23 2012

Gatorade: the new health food?

On April 20, I received a letter from a Gatorade PR person commenting on one of my posts reposted at the Atlantic Health/Food section.

After reading the letter, I searched my posts for references to Gatorade but can’t find anything specific other than my reporting the more than $100 million a year Pepsi spends to advertise this product.

So I’m guessing the letter must be referring to my comments about sports drinks in general:

Hi Marion –

I recently read your article in The Atlantic and would like to make sure you have the most current information. Your article criticizes sports drinks, advising against them because the sugars and carbs will make you fat. It also discusses the main sweetener in most sports drinks is high fructose corn syrup.

I would like to point out the carbohydrates and calories are functional in Gatorade, a sports drink, and are meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes.

The ingredients in Gatorade are backed by years of scientific research that support the need for carbohydrate sugars for fuel during training or competition and we only recommend Gatorade during the active occasion.

Also, high fructose corn syrup is not an ingredient in any Gatorade products.

For those looking for a lower-calorie sports beverage, Gatorade offers G2, which delivers the same amount of electrolytes as original Gatorade but with half the calories. Gatorade also recently introduced G Series FIT 02 Perform, which is designed for a fitness athlete and has 10 calories per 8oz serving.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.

Best,

Katie Montiel, Gatorade Communications

I’m always happy to hear from interested readers.

And aren’t you glad to know that sugar is a functional (translation: “good-for-you”) ingredient in Gatorade?

Mar 2 2012

How much sugar(s) do you eat?

Earlier this week I received a 3-page, single-spaced letter—plus 4 pages of charts and figures–from Andrew Briscoe III, the President and CEO of the Sugar Association.

I opened it with some trepidation because the last letter I got from the Sugar Association threatened to sue me (to read it, click here and scroll down to the Controversies section).

Whew.  This one merely expresses general concerns about:

the misinformation reported on added sugars consumption and the overstatement of added sugars contribution to increased caloric intakes.  Americans do not consume 25 percent of their calories from added sugars. We write to provide you with accurate data….

I don’t think I ever said that the average American consumes 25% of calories from sugars (although some surely do) but I have complained that the Institute of Medicine’s “safe” level of intake of sugars is 25% of calories.  This is higher than public health recommendations to restrict sugars to 10% of calories or less.  It is meant as an upper limit, but is often interpreted as a license to eat this much.

One quarter of daily calories from sugars is too high for something that provides no additional nutritional value.

The letter concludes:

The Sugar Association is committed to ensuring that all advice consumers receive regarding sugar intake is based on the best available scientific evidence and related data.  The American consumer will be better served by dietary advice that is science-based, practical and accurate, no matter the issue.

Can’t argue with that.  But as with all matters concerning nutrition, the issue is which science you choose to cite and how you interpret it.

Mr. Briscoe uses the term sugars, plural, because sucrose, HFCS, syrups, honey, and other such things are all sugars.

How much do Americans actually consume?  Mr. Briscoe was kind enough to provide USDA tables that address this question.  These describe the availability of sugars in the food supply, not necessarily what people are actually eating.

My interpretation of the tables is that they say:

  • Sugars comprise 17% of total calorie availability.
  • Adjusted for waste, the availability of sugars is about 27.5 teaspoons per day per capita (meaning everyone:  men, women, and tiny babies).
  • Translating this into calories: 27.5 teaspoons x 4 grams per teaspoon x 4 calories per gram = 440 calories per day per capita.
  • On a 2000 calorie diet, that’s 22% of total energy intake, although it will be lower for people who take in more calories.

The CDC has just released a summary of intake of added sugars among children and adolescents, in calories per day.

At 4 calories a gram, 400 calories is 100 grams or 3.5 ounces.  Can these calories contribute to weight gain or other health problems?

You bet.

As Mark Bittman put it in his New York Times column this week,

Let me state the obvious: there is no nutritional need for foods with added sugar.

All of this is part of the bigger question: How do we regulate the consumption of dangerous foods? As a nation, we’ve accepted the need to limit the marketing and availability of tobacco and alcohol. The first is dangerous in any quantity, and the second becomes dangerous when overconsumed.

And added sweeteners, experts increasingly argue, have more in common with these substances than with fruit.

No wonder the Sugar Association uses its own interpretation of the science to suggest that current levels of intake are benign and that no level of intake poses a risk.  Mr. Briscoe’s letter says:

No authoritative scientific body that has conducted a major systematic review of the scientific literature has a found a public health need to set an Upper Level (UL) for total or added sugars intake.  Every comprehensive review of the scientific literature concludes that, with the exception of dental caries, no causal link can be established between the intake of sugars and lifestyle diseases, including obesity.

I’m glad he mentioned dental caries.  Karen Sokal, a physician in California, has been tracking the onset of tooth decay among children in Latin America who are now consuming sodas and candy on a daily basis.  She writes:

Mark Bittman’s excellent editorial, “Regulating our Sugar Habit,” (Feb 27) concludes that eating too much sugar has become “the biggest public health challenge facing the developed world.”  Indeed, it poses a big health challenge for the entire world, especially developing countries.

In my 30 years of global health work, I have seen an explosion in the marketing and consumption of non-nutritious foods and beverages followed by a dramatic rise in childhood tooth decay and obesity. Quarterly business reports praise the food and beverage industry’s increased profits based on increased sales in “emerging markets.” The NY Times article on Kellogg’s purchase of Pringles (Feb 12) stated, “The snack business is growing faster and has greater appeal internationally,” which analysts noted “appears somewhat out of sync with the trends toward better-for-you snacking.”

Governmental regulations to ensure the production and marketing of healthful food and beverages must be applied worldwide and protect the health of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Indeed, they must.  The Sugar Association has much to answer for in its opposition to public health recommendations to eat less sugar.

Feb 2 2012

Are sugars toxic? Should they be regulated?

Nature, the prestigious science magazine from Great Britain, has just published a commentary with a provocative title–The toxic truth about sugar—and an even more provocative subtitle: Added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol.

The authors, Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis, are researchers at the University of California medical center in San Francisco (UCSF).

They argue that although tobacco, alcohol and diet are critically important behavioral risk factors in chronic disease, only two of them—tobacco and alcohol—are regulated by governments to protect public health.

Now, they say, it’s time to regulate sugar.  By sugar, they mean sugars plural: sucrose as well as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Both are about half fructose.

Their rationale?

  • Consumption of sugars has tripled over the last 50 years.
  • Many people consume as much as 500 calories a day from sugars (average per capita availability in the U.S. is about 400 calories a day)
  • High intake of fructose-containing sugars induce metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, insulin resistance), diabetes, and liver damage.
  • Sugars have the potential for abuse.
  • Sugars have negative effects on society (mediated via obesity).
  • Too much of a good thing can be toxic.

Therefore, they argue, societies should intervene and consider the kinds of policies that have proven effective for control of tobacco and alcohol:

  • Taxes
  • Distribution controls
  • Age limits
  • Bans from schools
  • Licensing requirements
  • Zoning ordinances
  • Bans on TV commercials
  • Labeling added sugars
  • Removal of fructose from GRAS status

In a statement that greatly underestimates the situation, they say:

We recognize that societal interven­tion to reduce the supply and demand for sugar faces an uphill political battle against a powerful sugar lobby, and will require active engagement from all stakeholders.

But, they conclude:

These simple measures — which have all been on the battleground of American politics — are now taken for granted as essential tools for our public health and well-being. It’s time to turn our attention to sugar.

What is one to make of this?  Sugar is a delight, nobody is worried about the fructose in fruit or carrots, and diets can be plenty healthy with a little sugar sprinkled here and there.

The issue is quantity.  Sugars are not a problem, or not nearly as much of a problem, for people who balance calorie intake with expenditure.

Scientists can argue endlessly about whether obesity is a cause or an effect of metabolic dysfunction, but most people would be healthier if they ate less sugar.

The bottom line?  As Corinna Hawkes, the author of numerous reports on worldwide food marketing, wrote me this morning, “there are plenty of reasons for people to consume less sugar without having to worry about whether it’s toxic or not!”

Dec 9 2011

EWG says kids’ cereals have too much sugar

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is getting interested in childhood obesity.  It released a report on sugars in kids’ breakfast cereals.

The report shows—no surprise—that kids’ cereals are really cookies in disguise, typically 40% -50% sugars by weight.   Kellogg’s Honey Smacks topped the list at 55%.

Michele Simon’s analysis of the report notes that these levels don’t even meet Kellogg’s commitment to responsible marketing, a pledge to “apply science-based Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria to all products currently marketed to children.”

I’ve been reading reports like this since the 1970s when Center for Science in the Public Interest published them at regular intervals.  Not much has changed.

Courtesy of Kellogg, I have a collection of copies of Froot Loop boxes dating back to the year in which this cereal was first introduced.  I thought it would be interesting to check the sugar content.

Froot Loops, Sugar content, grams per ounce

YEAR GRAMS SUGARS PER OUNCE LABEL
1963-71 Lists calories: range 110-114
1972-75 Lists carbohydrate, not sugars
1976-78 14 Lists sucrose and other sugars
1979-92 13
1993-95 14 Nutrition Facts: sugars
1996-2006 15
2007 13
2008-11 12

In 2005, Kellogg tried a version with 1/3 the sugar—10 grams—but it didn’t sell and quickly disappeared.

Companies are trying to reduce the sugars by a little, but this seems to be the best they can do.  It’s not enough.

As the EWG press release explains, some cereals are better than others.   It notes that I recommend:

  • Cereals with a short ingredient list (of additives other than vitamins and minerals).
  • Cereals high in fiber.
  • Cereals with little or no added sugars (added sugars are ingredients such as honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, lactose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and malt syrup).
  • Even better, try fresh fruit and homemade oatmeal.
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