by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Sep 21 2013

Mexico suffers from a sugar deficiency?

Mexico has an overweight-plus-obesity rate of 70%, and 15% of the population has type-2 diabetes. You might think that a key public health message might be “eat less sugar.”

But check this ad on a city bus:

IMG-20130919-00075

Translation:

  • Cane sugar
  • It’s natural
  • A little happiness each day
  • Only 15 calories per tablespoon 

In other (implied) words, “eat more sugar! It’s good for you!”

Jun 7 2013

Chicago’s self-cancelling health program

A reader writes that she rode by this ad on her way to work yesterday.  It’s on Chicago’s beautiful lakefront walking-and-bike path.

Chicago

It’s for a Big Gulp 32-ounce drink, and a bargain at 69 cents.

The Chicago Park District explains that it:

partnered with Chicago-based AdTraction Media to develop a temporary outdoor advertising solution that adheres to concrete areas and will be displayed April through October.  The additional revenue from this agreement will help the Chicago Park District enhance the programs, projects and events offered to Chicagoans and visitors.

Did nobody in the Park District consider the irony?

Better get moving!  It takes at least 4 miles of running and 8 to 10 of biking to work off the 400 calories in that 32-ounce soda.

May 29 2013

Keeping track of the farm bill: 194 amendments so far, just in the Senate

Congress is in recess this week so nothing new is happening on the farm bill.

I’m indebted to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the Hagstrom Report and follows farm bill issues closely, for publishing a list of amendments filed to date on the Senate draft of the bill.  Would you believe 194?

Of these, the Senate has managed to deal with a few.

The Senate passed:

  • Cantwell amendment to allow Indian tribes to participate in certain soil and water conservation programs. (#919)
  • Sessions amendment to clarify eligibility criteria for agricultural irrigation assistance. (#945, as modified) by unanimous consent.
  • Franken amendment to provide access to grocery delivery for homebound seniors and individuals with disabilities eligible for supplemental nutrition assistance benefits. (#992) by unanimous consent.
  • Vitter amendment to end food stamp eligibility for convicted violent rapists, pedophiles, and murderers. (#1056) by unanimous consent. 
It rejected:
  • Shaheen amendment to reform the federal sugar program, and for other purposes. (#925)
  • Gillibrand amendment to strike a reduction in the supplemental nutrition assistance program, with an offset that limits crop insurance reimbursements to providers. (#931)
  • Roberts amendment to improve and extend certain nutrition programs. (#948)
  • Inhofe amendment to repeal the nutrition entitlement programs and establish a nutrition assistance block grant program. (#960)
  • Sanders amendment to permit states to require that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale have a label on indicating that the food, beverage, or other edible product contains a genetically engineered ingredient. (#965) by a vote of 71 to 27.

Attempts to eliminate cuts to SNAP failed (sigh) but so did an attempt to leave food stamps up to states (cheers).  This means SNAP will have at least a $4 billion cut over 10 years—the best that can be hoped for at this point.

The Senate rejected  GM labeling.

Reform the sugar program?  Don’t be silly.  At some point, I’ll have more to say about that one.

As for the next 190 or so….  And as for what the House will do….

It would be great drama if it weren’t so sad and so much weren’t at stake. 

Apr 22 2013

Food politics makes strange bedfellows, again

Last week, I wrote about the dairy industry’s petition to avoid having to follow FDA rules about labeling artificial sweeteners on the front of milk cartons.

Cara Wilking, Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University points out that the Sugar Association, the trade association for producers of cane and beet sugar, is right on top of this issue.

To assist consumers in making informed choices about what is sweetening the products they purchase, the Sugar Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting changes to labeling regulations on sugar and alternative sweeteners.

In this petition we asked that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols be identified on the front of the package along with the amounts, similar to what is required in Canada.

If it is important to you to know if the product you purchase contains artificial sweeteners, let your congressional representatives know that FDA needs to take action on this important consumer issue.

The Sugar Association, obviously, represents the producers of cane and beet sugar. It wants to sell more sugar.  It doesn’t like artificial sweeteners much.  [Recall: it doesn’t like me much either—go to Media and scroll down to the bottom to read the Sugar Association’s letter threatening to sue me].

In contrast, the dairy industry wants to sell more milk.  Sweetened milk, no matter with what, sells to kids.  School kids are a big market for the dairy industry.  This market, however, is not doing well these days, according to the dairy industry’s August 2012 School Channel Survey.

Schools and processors are realizing 59% of current potential…Milk potential stands at 6.29 milks per student each week…Actual usage is 3.74 milks per student each week.  Elementary schools: 70% of potential being realized, down 1 point Secondary schools: 50%, down 1 point over last year.

Achieving ‘a milk with every meal’ translates into nearly 300 million incremental gallons….

Of course artificial sweeteners should be prominently labeled.  The Sugar Association has this one right.

Whatever your opinion, you can file comments at www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147.

 

Apr 4 2013

Stonyfield responds to yesterday’s post

My post yesterday about the increase in sugars in certain Stonyfield yogurts elicited this e-mail from Stonyfield’s Vice President for Communications and Social Media. I’m posting it here with her permission:

Hi Marion,

Alice Markowitz here…I read your blog post today–and wanted to give you an update on our yogurt and company.

Happy to say, that as Chairman of the Stonyfield Board, Gary [Hirshberg] is still wholeheartedly and irrepressibly involved with the company and our direction. Likewise, Stonyfield is actively engaged in the labeling issue, as we continually try to communicate the importance of knowing where your food comes from and how it’s produced.

I also wanted to clarify that we’ve shared the parent company Groupe Danone with Dannon since 2003, and we’ve always operated our company independently. That includes making our own decisions about the recipes we use for our yogurts.

In 2011, we replaced some of the sugar in our Smooth and Creamy style nonfat yogurts with organic stevia. Our fans didn’t like the switch, so we went back to using just organic sugar with our new Blends. So, while there’s more sugar in those yogurts now than when we used stevia, the amount is about the same as our pre-stevia recipe. In fact, the slight increase is due primarily to an increase in milk in the product, resulting in more protein, more milk sugar.   As with many of our products, Blends has a mix of naturally-occurring sugars from milk and fruit and some added sugars.

We are concerned about the amount of sugar in our yogurts. In fact, almost half of the sugar listed in the nutritional info is what’s found naturally in the milk and fruit – which is why you see different sugar amounts in different flavors. The sugar we do add is organic sugar used to create the flavors that our yogurt lovers prefer the most.

Ultimately though we offer the choice to the consumer, and offer 98 different organic products. If yogurt eaters prefer to restrict their sugar intake, we offer plain versions of our nonfat, lowfat, whole milk and Greek yogurt without any added sugar. Turns out we’re also the only company that offers a plain yogurt for babies (with naturally-occurring milk sugars only) so parents have a choice if they prefer no sugar.

Probably more info than you ever wanted but hope this clarifies things a bit.

All the best,

Alice

Apr 3 2013

Is Stonyfield yogurt upping its sugar?

Maybe it’s a coincidence but now that Gary Hirshberg has left Stonyfield to work on Just Label It!, its parent company, Dannon, is sweetening up its “Blends” yogurts.  

Or so writes a reader:

Yes it’s more sugar!  In the French Vanilla (6 oz cup), they added 10 g (from 17 – 27g)! 

In the Peach (also 6 oz cup) they added 6g (from 20 -26). 

It’s so bad that kids are fighting over it.  

We have noticed that they are eating less fruit because they want that sugar in the yogurts.

As I wrote of the competition between Dannon and Yoplait (owned by General Mills) in the yogurt chapter of What to Eat

The chief weapon in the yogurt battles is sugar.  Both brands are desserts.  Sugars constitute 55 percent of the 80 calories in Go-GURT, 67 percent of the 90 calories in Danimals Drinkable, and 68 of the 170 calories in Danimals XL.  Even in Stonyfield’s YoBaby organic yogurts…53% of the 120 calories come from added sugars.  Some of Stonyfield’s yogurts for older kids appear berry-flavored, but they have no fruit at all….

The book was published in 2006.  In this instance, I’m sorry that it’s holding up so well.

Mar 1 2013

Does sugar cause diabetes? Is a calorie a calorie?

I spent a lot of time last week talking to reporters about the widely publicized study in PloS One that correlates sugar and diabetes.

The study is based on an econometric model of data food availability and diabetes prevalence in many countries.  Such data are not particularly reliable, but the authors did the best they could with what they had.  They are quite forthcoming about the limitations of their model and the data on which it is based [see addition below].

Their principal conclusion: for every 150 kcal/person/day increase in sugar availability (about one can of soda/day), diabetes prevalence increases by about 1%.

Because no other dietary, weight, or behavioral factor shows this kind of effect in their model, it is tempting to interpret the study as demonstrating that sugar is a risk factor for diabetes independent of calorie intake or body weight.

I’m not so sure.  Take a look at the summary figures and decide for yourself.

Figure 1.  Relationship between obesity and worldwide prevalence of diabetes.

Figure 1 Relationship between obesity and diabetes prevalence rates worldwide.

Despite outliers, this figure shows an obvious and strong correlation between obesity and diabetes.  Compare this to Figure 2.

Figure 2.  Relationship of sugar availability to worldwide diabetes prevalence.

Figure 2 Adjusted association of sugar availability (kcal/person/day) with diabetes prevalence (% adults 20–79 years old).

The correlation here is much less obvious.  Without statistical tests, you could just as easily draw the line straight across the graph.  The statistical significance is much weaker than that in Figure 1.

This means that these data cannot easily distinguish between several possibilities:

(a) Calories –> Obesity –> Diabetes

(b) Sugar –> Diabetes

(c) Sugar –> Calories –> Obesity –> Diabetes

While waiting for science to clarify these distinctions, the bottom line is the same for all of them.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, everyone would be healthier eating less sugar.

Addition: The authors have posted detailed comments about their methods.

Feb 28 2013

Let’s Ask Marion: What’s The Recommended Daily Allowance of Sugar?

Here’s another one of those occasional queries from Kerry Trueman.  This one, posted at Huffington, is about FDA regulations for labeling sugars.

Trueman: I’ve just begun to sink my teeth into Michael Moss’s extraordinary food industry exposé, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, a book you’ve rightly lauded as a “breathtaking feat of reporting.” As Moss points out, the FDA is happy to give us guidelines on how much salt and fat to include in our daily diets, but–as a glance at any nutritional label shows–they’ve declined to make any recommendation at all about sugar.

Does this mean that:

(a) It’s OK to eat as much sugar as you like, or:

(b) There may be an unsafe level of sugar consumption, but the FDA just doesn’t have the resources to figure out what that level is, or:

(c) The FDA knows how much sugar we can eat without harming our health, but the food industry won’t let them tell us.

How is the average American supposed to interpret this absence of information?

Nestle: Whoa. Slow down. Let’s back up a minute. The FDA sets nutritional standards for food labels, but the Institute of Medicine (IOM) sets nutritional standards for dietary intake. To understand what’s happening with the FDA and food labels, we have to talk about what the IOM used to call the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) but now calls Dietary Reference Intakes (which, confusingly, include RDAs and other standards, such as Upper Limits).

In 2002, the IOM set standards for total carbohydrates–sugars and starches (which are converted to sugars in the body). In its review of the evidence, the IOM set the RDA for total carbohydrates at 130 grams a day (roughly 4 ounces) to meet the needs of the brain for fuel. This amount is much less than typically consumed by adults.

As for sugars, the IOM noted that the average intake of sugars among adolescent males was 143 grams per day, and that the heaviest users were consuming 208 grams per day–much more than the amount of total carbohydrate needed.

Since sugars are not required nutrients, the IOM could not set an RDA. And although it did not have enough evidence to set an Upper Limit, the IOM suggested that the maximum level of intake of added sugars (as opposed to those naturally present in foods) should be a whopping 25% or less of calories.

Americans typically consume around 20% of calories from added sugars. Taken at face value, the IOM suggestion made it sound as if current intake levels were just fine. The sugar industry happily viewed 25% as a recommendation, not a maximum.

Before the sugar industry got after them, many countries recommended an upper level of sugar intake at 10% of calories. That’s what the U.S. Pyramid did in 1992.

The sugar industry does not like the 10% recommendation. It means, for example, that just one of Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce sodas takes care of recommended sugar intake for the day.

Robert Lustig, who is largely concerned about what too much fructose does to us, thinks that 50 grams of sugar (sucrose or HFCS) is a reasonable Upper Limit for most people. This would provide 25 grams of fructose, which the body can handle with relative ease. What’s interesting about his cut point is that it means 200 calories a day, or 10% of calories for a 2000 calorie diet. So there we are at 10% of calories again.

If the FDA wanted to be helpful, it could do two things.

1. Require companies to list added sugars under the carbohydrate category on food labels.

2. Set a DV for sugars at 50 grams.

In the meantime, everyone would be healthier eating less sugar.