by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Aug 25 2009

American Heart Association: Eat (a lot!) less sugar.

At last, the American Heart Association (AHA) has done something useful.  It advises eating less sugar.  Americans eat way too much, it says, a whopping 22 teaspoons a day on average.  Let’s work this out.  A teaspoon is 4 grams.  A gram is 4 calories.  So the 275 calories in that default 20-ounce soda you picked up from a vending machine come from nearly 17 teaspoons of sugar – close to the average right there.  If you have trouble maintaining weight, soft drinks are an obvious candidate for “eat less” advice.  Neither the Wall Street Journal (in which I am quoted) nor the New York Times say much about how soft drink manufacturers are reacting to this recommendation, but it isn’t hard to guess.

Here, for example, is what the industry-sponsored American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has to say:

The study targets added sugars as the main culprit of dietary excess, but since “U.S. labels on packaged foods do not distinguish between naturally occurring or added sugars,” it is difficult to tell the difference. However, “our bodies can’t tell the difference either,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “Natural and added sugars are nutritionally the same. Added sugar causes obesity as much as the orange juice promoted by the American Heart Association causes obesity [e-mail newsletter, August 25, 2009].

Smart Start

This is the first time the AHA has seriously weighed in on sugar.  I find this especially interesting because the AHA has a long history of endorsing sugary cereals (as I discuss in Food Politics and also in What to Eat).  In this example, the AHA’s endorsement is in the lower left corner.  This product has sugars of one kind or another listed 9 times in the ingredient list.

The AHA gets paid for such endorsements.  Let’s hope the new recommendation encourages the AHA to stop doing this.

Update August 27: I really don’t know what to say about the ACSH’s Jeff Stier.  he is acting more like the Center for Consumer Freedom’s Rick Berman every day.   Today’s e-mail newsletter from ACSH contains this statement:

In her blog in The Atlantic, NYU Professor of Nutrition Dr. Marion Nestle has fallen into the habit of suggesting that ACSH is incapable of objective analysis of public health concerns because we are, in her distorted view, “thoroughly industry-sponsored.”

ACSH’s Jeff Stier wrote to her editors: “Like many of the country’s top non-profits, Dr. Nestle’s NYU included, we accept corporate donations, with no strings attached. But we also receive significant support from individuals and foundations. Her misleading description of us suggests that we represent industry. We do not. We are advised by some of the nation’s leading scientists and represent consumers.

“By way of this email, I ask for a conspicuous and fair correction. We are happy to engage on the issues Dr. Nestle writes about, but her attacks on us are below someone of her stature. We’d prefer an informed and enlightening discussion of the issues, not underhanded and unfounded attacks on credibility.”

“Apparently, Dr. Nestle believes that your opinions are irrelevant, since they diverge from her ideological agenda,” says Stier. “We represent you, consumers, who want science rather than ideology informing public health decisionmaking. Does she really think that consumers are so monolithic that they either agree with her or are put up to it by some sinister entity?”

Readers: Does anyone know what is going on with this group?  It sounds so much like the Center for Consumer Freedom that I can’t help but wonder.

Feb 15 2009

Sales of HFCS-free foods zoom up

The bad press about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is having an effect.  According to figures assembled by Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, sales of products bearing “HFCS-Free” labels almost reached a billion dollars last year.  Fruit drinks are the biggest HFCS-free category, but HFCS-free yogurts, vegetable juices, and breads are the fastest growing. Lempert doesn’t say what companies are using instead of HFCS.  If it’s sucrose, it won’t be much of an improvement.  But no wonder the Corn Refiners think they need a hefty public relations campaign.

March 21 update: This trend is a front-page story in the New York Times.

Dec 3 2008

Deli chain bans HFCS

Food Chemical News (December 1) reports that Jason’s Deli, which has more than 200 outlets throughout the U.S., is banning high fructose corn syrup from all its products as well as trying to figure out how to get it out of soft drinks.  Apparently, the chain polled customers and 65% (of nearly 3,000) said they wanted it gone.  A spokesman for the chain said they consider pure cane syrup and sugar to be “more real and…not as processed or fooled with as high-fructose corn syrup.”  Maybe, but they have the same number of calories and the same effects in the body!

Oct 5 2008

Sugars in kids’ cereals

Consumer Reports International counted the sugars and salt in kids’ products in 32 countries.  The sugars don’t look good, but they look worse in the U.S.  Kids’ cereals have lots of sugars–40% of the calories internationally but 55% in the U.S. Consumer Reports will describe the U.S. part of the survey in its November issue.  In the meantime, it says kids’ cereals changed their names from “Sugar” to “Honey” in the 1980s, but the sugars and calories are much the same.  Also in the meantime, Consumer Reports rates the cereals.  Most are the equivalent of fat-free cookies.  I wish it were easier to find a cereal that had a reasonable amount of fiber (the point of cereals, after all) and didn’t add sugars.  I’d much rather add my own, especially in the form of those crunchy brown crystals.

May 19 2008

Organic infant formula with sucrose: an oxymoron?

The New York Times reports that the organic version of Similac infant formula is made with organic cane juice – sucrose – not lactose (milk sugar). Sucrose is sweeter than lactose; infants love it. Sucrose encourages infants to drink more formula and could promote weight gain.

But the goal of formula companies is to sell as much formula as possible. Because the number of formula-drinking babies is small and fixed, they either have to expand the number of mothers who use formula (rather than breast feed), or encourage infants to drink more. Either approach raises ethical issues. But why else would Abbott Labs, the maker of Similac, put sucrose in formula and organic formula at that? Can’t the company find a source for organic lactose? Is organic cane juice cheaper? And try this for a price comparison: at my local Duane Reade, organic Similac is nearly $31 per can, whereas Earth’s Best is just $26. This makes Earth’s Best a much better buy, especially because it uses organic lactose. Sucrose in infant formula? That’s one more good reason to breast feed.

Dec 31 2007

Question of the year: high fructose corn syrup

I will end the year with the big issue of 2007: high fructose corn syrup. It is basically the same as sugar (sucrose). The “high fructose” is misleading. Sucrose is glucose and fructose (50/50). High fructose corn syrup is glucose and fructose (45/55 or 55/42). So whether you eat cane sugar, organic cane sugar, table sugar, or high fructose corn syrup, you are eating the same thing–glucose and fructose. Yes, fructose is metabolized differently, but most foods do not contain just fructose. The big issues are quantity and calories. Eating too much sugar (or starch, for that matter) is much more of a problem when there is lots of it and lots of calories from sugars or anything else. So we are back to moderation, alas. Enjoy your dessert and happy new year!

Nov 19 2007

UK alters traffic light labeling system to account for added sugars

According to FoodProductionDaily, my newsletter source for information about food and nutrition in Europe, the U.K. Food Standards agency is changing its red-yellow-green labeling system to distinguish added sugars from those naturally present in foods. This is a good idea and I wish the FDA would do the same thing, but one of the reasons given doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. According to this report, the Food Standards Agency agreed to do this because “sugars derived from fruit, such as fructose, are generally lower in calories, while added sugars are perceived as unhealthier.” Added sugars may be perceived as unhealthier, but sugars are sugars and they all–sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, and all the rest–have the same number of calories, roughly 4 per gram. I think there is a better reason: naturally occurring sugars come with everything else that’s in fruits and vegetables, and added sugars don’t.

Sep 6 2007

Sugar Free?

The FDA is fed up with products claiming to be sugar free but not mentioning that they still have lots of calories. So the agency has decided not to let food companies get away with this anymore. Its latest “guidance” warns companies that if they say a product is “sugar-free,” it better be low in calories too. It’s great to see the FDA trying to do something about misleading health claims. Doesn’t this poor, beleaguered agency deserve a cheer for this one!