by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)

Mar 7 2018

When are added sugars not? The answer in FDA-speak.

Nutrition labels may seem self-evident but it takes volumes of Federal Register notices to explain how every word works.  When it comes to food labels, the devil is in those details.

Take “Added Sugars,” coming soon to a food label near you.

How does the term apply to honey and maple syrup or, for that matter, sugar itself.  These are sugars ready to add.

Pure honey and maple syrup producers are worried that when you see grams of Added Sugars on their labels, you will think that these natural products have been adulterated with—gasp—High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The producers of sugar-sweetened cranberry products are also concerned.  They worry that the added sugars will discourage you from buying cranberries.

Here is how the FDA suggests dealing with these “problems,” in quotes because they are problems for producers, not you and me—we know what “added” means.

The purpose of this draft guidance is to advise food manufacturers of our intent to exercise enforcement discretion related to the use in the Nutrition Facts label of a symbol “†” immediately after the added sugars percent Daily Value information on single ingredient packages and/or containers of pure honey or pure maple syrup and on certain dried cranberry and cranberry juice products that are sweetened with added sugars and that contain total sugars at levels no greater than comparable products with endogenous (inherent) sugars, but no added sugars.

Got that?

Pure honey and maple syrup get a “†” indicating that they have no more sugar than any other comparable sugar.

Cranberries are more complicated:

With respect to the labeling of certain cranberry products, cranberries are a naturally tart fruit, and certain dried cranberries and cranberry juice products have added sugars added to them to bring the total sugars per serving up to levels comparable to the levels of non-cranberry competitor products that contain equivalent amounts of total sugars, but whose labels list zero “added sugars” because their fruit products are inherently sweet.

Did you get that?

If I read this FDA-speak correctly, the FDA is making an exception for cranberries.  It agrees that the Added Sugars in cranberries also deserve a “†”.

Why is FDA allowing this?  The Draft Guidance explains:

We received comments from the cranberry industry to the final rule and subsequent correspondence that the added sugars declaration would be detrimental to the cranberry industry by implying that cranberry products are less nutritious than competitive products that have similar amounts of total sugars and nutrients.

These comments were similar to those we received which noted that grape juice contains 36 grams of total sugar with no added sugars while cranberry cocktail, with sugars added for palatability because cranberries are naturally tart, generally contains 28 grams of total sugars including 25 grams of added sugars and has 30 fewer calories per serving than 100% grape juice.

Likewise, comments explained that sweetened dried cranberries contain 29 grams of total sugars including 25 grams of added sugars per serving while raisins contain 29 grams of total sugars with no added sugars per serving. Both sweetened dried cranberries and raisins have the same number of calories per serving and a similar nutrient profile.

In translation, you are not supposed to be concerned about the Added Sugars in cranberries.

But couldn’t you could buy real cranberries and add a whole lot less sugar than that?

Chalk this as a win for cranberry lobbyists.

The documents

 

Aug 17 2017

Cane versus beet sugar–A difference?

As a result of yesterday’s post, readers asked questions about sugar.  Here’s one:

Q: Is there a difference between cane and beet sugar?

A: It depends.

Both are 99.95% sucrose.

But the plants are different.  Sugar cane is grassy; sugar beets are a root vegetable.

The sucrose is extracted and refined by different methods.

And that remaining 0.05%: chefs say it makes a difference in cooking properties.

The San Francisco Chronicle did some comparative baking and then ran blind taste tests.

These showed big differences, with cane sugar a clear winner.

Who knew?

Just for fun, here’s another difference: sugar beets are about 95% GMO; sugar cane is non-GMO.

Related image

Also for fun, here’s cane-plus-beet versus high fructose corn syrup:

You know the drill.  Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar—no matter whether it comes from cane, beets, or corn.

Jun 19 2017

Corn: The crop that ate America

Bloomberg News has an interactive infographic on U.S. corn production.  Corn now accounts for 68 percent of US grain-and-oilseed production.

The USDA gives a bit of background on the corn economy.

Scientific American explains why growing all that corn is not such a great idea.

  • It’s mostly for feeding animals, not people
  • 40% of it goes to fuel for cars
  • It uses up lots of natural resources
  • It’s monoculture, and vulnerable
  • It’s taxpayer supported—at billions of dollars per year

Here’s how it is used.

Time to do some rethinking, no?

If you can find it, watch the film King Corn.  It’s a lot of fun and enormously revealing.

Jun 14 2017

Sugar policy again: this time Mexico

I can’t believe that I am writing about sugar policy again.  The Trump Administration has just gotten a preliminary agreement with Mexico about the sugar it exports to us.

Mexico says OK, (1) it won’t make us pay as much for it, and (2) it will restrict how much refined (white) sugar it sends.

This is great for U.S. sugar processors who turn raw sugar into white.  They want Mexico to send raw sugar so U.S. processing plants stay busy.

But food and beverage companies making products will have to pay more for sugar.  They belong to the Coalition for Sugar Reform, which is not happy about the agreement.

Under NAFTA, Mexico could sell unlimited amounts of sugar to us.   But our domestic sugar producers complained the Mexicans were “dumping” subsidized sugar and undercutting their prices.  In retaliation,

  • We threatened to impose tariffs.
  • Mexico threatened to stop buying our high-fructose corn syrup (it currently buys 80% of our HFCS).

Three years ago, we got Mexico to agree to set minimum prices and limit the amount of sugar it sells to us.  The new arrangement confirms that deal, at least for the moment.

As for us public health types, sugar policy is endlessly weird.  Domestically, we don’t produce enough sugar to meet demands so we have to import sugar from other countries.  We keep domestic prices high through quotas, buy-backs and price-support loans.  This ought to discourage consumption, but does not.

How come?  Because the higher price, amounting to billions a year overall, works out to only about $10 per year per capita.

This is not high enough to:

  • Reduce sugar consumption
  • Improve health
  • Generate outrage

Want to read more about this?

 

Aug 3 2016

McDonald’s joins the food movement???

McDonald’s ran a full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times:*

“At McDonald’s we’re on a journey: What’s important to you is important to us.”

The ad says McDonald’s is taking these actions [with my comments]:

  • Removed artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets and other items [Fine, but no big deal in my book.]
  • Removed high fructose corn syrup from hamburger buns [And replaced it with what?  Sugar?  This matters? I’m guessing the price of HFCS must be close enough to the price of sugar to make this possible.]**
  • Committed to only source chickens that have not been treated with antibiotics [OK.  Now we’re talking important.  For this alone,  McDonald’s deserves high praise.  My only question: by when?]*** 

The ad also summarizes the company’s additional actions, done and promised:

  • Burgers are 100% beef
  • Eggs are freshly cracked
  • Salads feature baby spinach, kale, Tuscan red leaf lettuce, and carrots
  • Buttermilk chicken uses real buttermilk
  • Milk is sourced from cows not treated with rbST
  • 2 billion sides of fruit were served (including 59 million clementines)
  • Espresso beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified
  • Eggs will be cage-free by 2025

Amazing, no?

It’s worth a field trip to see how all this works in practice.  I’m on it.

Additions, corrections, and updates

*Jill Cornish writes that the ad also appeared in the Washington Post.

**I get a Bingo for this one.  Martijn Katan writes: “The price of beet sugar fell below that of HCFS in April 2015. By June 2016, 1 lb of HFCS-55 cost $0.412 as opposed to $0.297 for beet sugar.”  He even sends a reference: www.cornnaturally.com/Economics-of-HFCS/price-calculator.aspx

***Andy Smith points out that “In 2015, McDonald’s announced that it would stop buying chicken raised with non-therapeutic, medically-important antibiotics by 2017– but a few weeks ago announced that it had already done so.”  He too provides a reference: See QSR. “McDonald’s Eliminates Antibiotics From Its Chicken,” QSR Magazine, August 2, 2016. Retrieved at https://www.qsrmagazine.com/news/eliminates-antibiotics-its-chicken.

Thank you readers!  Much appreciated.

Dec 24 2015

The FDA’s question for Christmas Eve: What is “natural?”

The FDA is extending the comment period for the meaning of “natural” on food labels until May 10, 2016.  This, it says, is

In direct response to requests from the public…Due to the complexity of this issue, the FDA is committed to providing the public with more time to submit comments. The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps.

The “complexity of this issue?”  Isn’t it obvious what “natural” means when applied to food—minimally processed with no junk added?

Not a chance.  “Natural” is too valuable a marketing term to forbid its use on highly processed foods.  To wit:

Here, as the agency explains, is what complicates the meaning of “natural”:

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels.  We also note that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Are foods containing genetically modified ingredients or HFCS “natural?”

The FDA says

It has long “considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic  (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.

However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”
  • If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

If you want to weigh in on this, you now have until May 10 to do so.  Go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.

Here are the background documents:

May your holidays be happy, healthy, and natural, of course.

Apr 20 2015

Sugar politics: never a dull moment

Here are two more items on the endless disputes over sugar intake.

1.  The IOM’s 25% of calories from sugar “recommendation”

I was surprised to see the Institute of Medicine’s upper limit of sugar safety cited in a JAMA commentary on sugars and heart disease. The authors disagreed with the conclusions of a study by Yang et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine:

Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.

The authors of the commentary say:

The relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality remains unresolved. The study by Yang et al1 does not support implementation of health policies limiting sugar intake because a relatively small fraction of the total population ingests excessive amounts of sugar by the IOM criteria….Laws attempting to limit excess sugar intake have been passed and overturned on legal grounds. Aside from the legal questions, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support pursuit of policies limiting sugar intake.

They then go on to say:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is that less than 25% of total kilocalories come from added sugar.

Oops.  The IOM made no such recommendation.

Instead, the IOM said 25% of calories was the upper limit of safe sugar intake for nutrient deficiencies.  The risk of nutrient deficiencies increases above that percentage.  That IOM report said nothing about the relationship of sugar quantity to risk of chronic diseases.

Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars as a means to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most research shows that chronic disease risks increase with increasing sugar intake.

 2.  What is the FDA doing about “Added Sugars” on food labels?

According to all sources, the FDA is still working on what to do about Added Sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel.  It is engaged in two studies of this question.

It says the added sugars study is complete and the data are being analyzed.  It says the format study is in the works.

The FDA was criticized for proposing added sugars on the label without having done the research first.  Apparently, the White House Office of Management and Budget took 9 months to approve the FDA’s proposal to do the sugar research.  The approval came after the FDA issued its label proposal.

The bottom line on sugar: Less is better.

Jun 19 2014

Corn Refiners to test the new food label

ProPolitico writes that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and five other industry groups have written the FDA that they intend to fund their own research on the FDA’s proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label.

The FDA already has a research project underway.

Why would the CRA—the trade association for the makers of high fructose corn syrup—want to bother with an expensive and complicated research project like this?

In an interview, John Bode, CRA president and CEO, told Politico:

The FDA has estimated that changes to the label could cost the industry $2.3 billion, but ‘we suspect that is a very conservative number.

OK.  So one purpose of the research will be to prove that the new food label will cost industry a lot more money than the FDA estimates.

Let me take a guess here and surmise that another purpose will be to prove that listing “added sugars” on food labels “misleads” the public.

This will be industry-funded research.  No matter how well it appears to be done, it is highly likely to produce the answers the CRA wants.

Otherwise, why do it?

If you are a betting person, this one looks like a sure thing.

FDA: finish up those studies and get the results out!

Addition, June 20:  Legal analysts, one a former attorney for CSPI who now works for a law firm representing industry clients, advise against putting “added sugars” on the label.