by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Oct 16 2019

Hey–Sugar is Plant-Based!

I love the Sugar Association, the chief lobbying group for producers of sugar cane and sugar beets, for its endlessly creative ways of trying to convince that more sugar is good for us. [Note: High Fructose Corn Syrup is represented by a separate group, the Corn Refiners Association, which does much of the same.]

I was sent this account of  sugar-industry speeches at a symposium run by the American Sugar Alliance, another trade group.

What to do about all those pesky “eat less sugar” messages?  According to one public relations speaker,

The fact that sugar comes from a plant is a positive for consumers…The terms “real” and “pure” create positive associations in consumers’ minds…Consumers believe that honey is “the most healthy and natural” of sweeteners and that high-fructose corn syrup is “not real.”

Only 30% think sugar is naturally grown…A key message should be that “sugar comes from a plant—like sugar beets or sugar cane.  It’s grown on a farm and it’s minimally processed.

As always, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Oct 9 2019

Sugar reduction in the UK: Taxes work, voluntary does not

I was alerted to this story by the FoodNavigator-USA headline: Sugar content in soft drinks cut by nearly a third as voluntary efforts fall way off target.

Public Health England’s latest progress report on the food and drink industry’s sugar cutting efforts reveal significant changes in areas where the sugar tax applies, but a disappointing lack of progress with the voluntary sugar reduction programme.

The Year 2 progress report finds:

  • The sugar in taxed drinks affected by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) decreased by 28.8% between 2015 and 2018.
  • For non-taxed products, the reduction in sugar was only 2.9%.
  • Total sugar increased by 2.6%: the largest increases were for ice cream, candies, sweet spreads, and cookies.

Moral: if you want companies to reduce sugar in their products, tax them.

Jul 15 2019

Industry-funded studies: The Sugar Association’s view

You may think, as I do, that everyone would be better off eating less sugar, but that’s not how The Sugar Association sees it.  This trade association for sugar producers funds research to demonstrate that eating sugar is a good thing and not harmful.

Here’s what The Sugar Association says:

The Sugar Association is committed to transparent engagement with researchers, external partners and consumers to address knowledge gaps and support independent, peer-reviewed science. Recent literature suggests this framework, rooted in transparency and communication and reflected in our Operating Principles, leads to increased public confidence in industry-funded research,* a goal the organization is working to achieve.

The asterisk refers to Achieving a transparent, actionable framework for public-private partnerships for food and nutrition research, a consensus report written by, among others, representatives of the International Life Sciences Institute, a well known front group for the food industry, and other organizations with ties to food companies.

The Sugar Association lists some of its recent publications [you can’t make this stuff up]:

Nutrition Today Supplement: Sweet Taste Perception and Feeding Toddlers. March/April 2017 – Volume 52 [The Sugar Association funded the conference that resulted in this supplement, which it also funded].

Jul 12 2019

Weekend shopping: “Golden Sugar”

I’m indebted to Mimi Griffith for telling me about an article in Food Dive about a new product Domino must think you can’t live without: Golden Sugar.

It’s “Less Processed” !

And, “bakes and dissolves like white sugar.”  Of course it does.  It’s sugar.

OK, so it hasn’t gone through the last stage of refinement to white sugar and has a slight taste of molasses.  But it’s still sugar.

Less processed or not, Golden Sugar is sugar; it is not a health food.

Domino is taking advantage of current advice to avoid “ultra-processed” junk foods.  The company must believe that you will think this is healthier than white sugar.  Not a chance.

I”m curious to know:  Is Golden Sugar any different from the Turbinado sugar Domino currently sells?  Does Domino think you will relate this to Golden Rice, the poster child for GMO’s?  What was Domino’s marketing team thinking?

White, tan, or brown, sugar is sugar—50% glucose, 50% fructose, 4 calories per gram.

Most of us would be better off eating less of it, unprocessed or processed.

Jun 28 2019

Weekend reading: FoodNavigator’s special edition on sweeteners

The industry newsletter, FoodNavigator.com, which I follow for its thorough coverage of this industry, has collected a set of its articles on sweeteners in a “special edition.”

Reminder: We love sweet foods.  Sugars have calories and encourage us to eat more of sweet foods.  Food companies wish they had a reasonable alternative to sugars that tasted as good and didn’t cause health problems.

Good luck with that!  In the meantime…

Special Edition: Sweeteners and sugar reduction

Food and beverage manufacturers have a far wider range of sweetening options than ever before, from coconut sugar and date syrup to allulose, monk fruit and new stevia blends. We explore the latest market developments, formulation challenges, and consumer research.

Mar 25 2019

Industry-influenced study of the week: sugars v. calories

Unsavory Truth came out late last year, but I’m following up by posting recent examples of the issues it covers.  Here, for example, is a recent study that caught my eye:

The role of dietary sugars in health: molecular composition or just calories?  Philip Prinz. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2019).

A big argument in nutrition right now is whether the metabolic dysfunction that results from excessive consumption of sugars is due to the sugars themselves or to the calories they produce (or, I suppose, to both).

The author who attempted to answer this question conducted a lengthy and detailed review of research on the effects of sugars on obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions .  His conclusion:

Current scientific evidence does not support the conclusion that dietary sugars themselves are detrimental to human health and the cause of obesity as well as NCDs [non-communicable— chronic—diseases]. Data from human studies clearly shows that it is the excess amount of calories, also consumed in form of dietary sugars, that promotes obesity and with that favors NCDs. For sucrose, further research is needed in order to evaluate the relevance of its molecular composition, especially in comparison with other macronutrients.

In other words, you don’t have to worry about sugars; just don’t overeat anything.

So, who paid for this?

The paper provides no disclosures of funding or conflicted interests.

But if you click on Philip Prinz, you will see that he is with the Department of Nutritional Sciences, German Sugar Association, Berlin, Germany

Comment

My interpretation of this literature generally favors calories (see my book with Malden Nesheim, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics).  As I see it, when it comes to weight gain, how much you eat matters more than what you eat, especially if your diet is reasonably healthy.

But I would be much more confident in conclusions like these if they came from a researcher whose salary did not depend on producing desirable results for a sugar association.

And everybody would be better off eating less sugar, for reasons of nutritional health, if not necessarily weight.

Feb 19 2019

The Corn Refiners Association responds

In response to my post of last week on Bud Light’s use of corn syrup as a means to attack competing beer companies, I received this note from John Bode, the president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.

I met Mr. Bode years ago, when I was working in Washington DC and he was assistant secretary for agriculture under President Reagan, and we continue to correspond occasionally.

Dear Marion,

I realize you disagree with various policy positions the Corn Refiners Association has taken, but your characterization of CRA as promoting corn syrup and HFCS is out of date.  Since shortly after I joined the association five years ago, CRA policy has forbid promotion of increased consumption of corn sweeteners and other nutritive sweeteners.

As noted on our website and in comments we’ve made in comments regarding federal food regulations, we do not promote the increased consumption of sugars – “CRA recognizes that many Americans need to reduce their total intake of calories, including calories from sugars and sweeteners, thus CRA does not promote increased consumption of sugars or other caloric sources.” (see website)

I hope you find this information helpful.

As I discussed in my book, Unsavory Truth, I had some bad experiences with the CRA in its pre-Bode era.  Mr. Bode is trying to do better but it’s tough to represent sugars of any kind these days.  I appreciate his writing to me and granting permission to reproduce his note.

Oct 24 2018

The soda industry is having trouble meeting calorie targets

In 2014, the soda industry (American Beverage Industry, Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper) and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation) pledged to reduce calories in its beverages as a means to help with weight control.  The pledge was to reduce calories in sugary drinks by 20% by 2025.

At the moment, achievement of this goal seems unlikely according to a report by the American Beverage Association and the Alliance. 

The overall summary: a 3 (!) calorie per person per day reduction since 2014.

Plotting the data this way makes the change seem significant, but this industry has a long way to go.

Why isn’t it doing better?  The simple answer: sugary drinks sell and are highly profitable.

The report explains the trends:

  • A decline in consumption of carbonated soft drinks, but an increase in consumption of sugary sports drinks, energy drinks, and ready-to-drink teas and coffees.
  • A decline in retail sales of carbonated soft drinks, but an increase in calories from fountain drinks and food service.
  • An increase in sales of smaller-size containers, but also an increase in sales of larger containers.

The report does not give advertising figures.

I’d like to know which products are getting the most marketing dollars.   Want to take a guess?