Growing up, so many of us associated sugar with the very best things in life – holidays, birthday parties, sleepovers, and after school snacks – all of these were loaded up with sugary goodness, delivered from packaged sweet things to our mouths, seemingly by the truckload. I remember no Sunday being complete until I had dug my little fingers into a 50 pack bag of doughnut holes, and no holiday was over until I’d sipped and chewed myself into a cake-and-cookie-induced sugar coma. This is the foodstuff of a traditional American childhood for so many. And it all seems so – well, sweet, right? Sugar, in all its forms, seems about as dangerous as a baby panda bear.
But, the truth hurts. Overconsumption of sugar is killing us. The news in short: sugar is pretty terrible for us when consumed beyond a conservative moderation. A 2013 American Heart Association study found that 25,000 people in United States can be attributed to the consumption of sugar-laden beverages. But the liquids aren’t the only culprit – the average American consumers more than 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar every single day.
Now, as we learn more about this ingredient which once sat at the center stage of so many childhoods, and as information becomes unearthed about just how detrimental sugar is to our bodies in the long haul, many of us are attempting to back that sugar truck up, get out, and throw away the key for good.
But it’s no easy feat, especially with all of the barriers that exist. Beyond the fact that many of us are addicted to sugar, what makes sugar so tough to banish from our lives? Could it have something to do with the way this dubious ingredient is labeled and reflected in packaging? Let’s take a deeper look at how sugar is labeled.
First, let’s consider how many different names sugar has been given by those smart sugar cookies running the sugar companies. We’ve got cane juice, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, diastase, dextrin, ethyl maltol, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, fructose, sorbitol, maltose, carob syrup, dehydrated fruit juice, turbinado, sorghum syrup, refiner’s syrup, barley malt – oh my! And the list goes on and on. Prevention has listed 57 different possible names for sugar!
As explained via Hungry for Change, “Although the FDA (and the USDA) has certainly acknowledged and tried to define the term ‘added sugars,’ or those sugars that aren’t naturally occurring in foods (for example, fruits), the government is leaving it up to us to be food detectives and learn all the various names for sugar and, more importantly, how much of it we’re actually putting in our mouths.”
As of right now, there is no “added sugars” section on a U.S. food label, which means companies are finding tricky ways to pack more sugar in foods, without making it easy for consumers to discern this little workaround found lurking in the ingredient list.
“For example, if a manufacturer wants to sweeten up a certain brand of crackers, it can either do this using 15 grams of ‘sugar’ or, 5 grams of ‘malt syrup,’ 5 grams of ‘invert sugar’ and 5 grams of ‘glucose’. Some manufacturers seem to be choosing this divide and masquerade method, placing these ingredients lower down on their products’ lists, making us believe that the amount of sugar in the product is smaller than it is,” Hungry for Change explains.
The FDA explains more about the damaging nature of added sugars: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing caloric intake from added sugars and solid fats because eating these can cause people to eat less of nutrient-rich foods and can also increase how many calories they take in overall. Added sugars provide no additional nutrient value, and are often referred to as ‘empty calories.’ Expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization also recommend decreasing intake of added sugars.”
As a result, many of us consume more sugar than we may think throughout the day, and this is not so great for our long term health. And, of course, the more sugar we eat – whether known to us or not – the more we eventually want. This cycle sends us into a tailspin of endless cravings and a sugar addiction that’s feeding epidemics of unhealthy living for all ages and races.
Slippery Serving Sizes
Many may consume more sugar because serving sizes on food labels simply aren’t up to standards of reality. Having four servings sizes held within one bottle of soda or another type of sugary drink and having nutritional data listed on the label for just one serving doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when, in all likelihood, people are going to consume the whole bottle in one sitting. That 15 grams of sugar per serving many people might see when they glance over the label becomes 60 grams consumed in that one sitting pretty quickly.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration itself explains: “By law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of food and drink that people customarily consume, not on what people should be eating. People are generally eating more today than 20 years ago, so some of the current serving sizes, and the amount of calories and nutrients that go with them, are out of date.”
Once again, this sort of labeling confusion often leads to overconsumption of this seemingly innocuous yet oh-so-dangerous drug we call sugar.
The Good News
Earlier this year, the FDA proposed changes to food labels that will, if streamlined into current labeling practices, would make sugar avoidance just a bit easier.
First, the FDA is hoping to improve upon that pesky serving size issue, by proposing “to require that some food products previously labeled as more than one serving be labeled as a single serving, because people typically eat or drink them in one sitting. All packages containing between 150 percent and 200 percent of the recommended daily allowances could no longer be labeled as more than one serving. Examples would be a 20-ounce can of soda or a 15 ounce can of soup. Certain larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings would be required to be labeled per serving and per package.”
Even more encouraging is the proposed changes to the actual sugar line on food labels: new regulation would require added sugars to be listed, indented under the ‘Sugars’ section so consumers understand how much sugar is naturally occurring (such as in fruit) and how much has been added to the product. Ultimately, these two proposed changes on their own can help make sugar become a more prominent declaration on food labels, thus (hopefully) making it easier for those concerned about consuming too much of the sweet stuff.
What This Means for You
While this is all excellent news, you’ll still need to keep your guard up and magnifying glass out. If these changes become rule, the food industry will have two years to comply – so it may be some time before you see any change in labeling.
Beyond these proposed changes, it would be nice to see the varying names for sugar synthesized in a way that would make discerning sugar’s presence a bit less confusing. Since this is unlikely to happen any time soon, your best bet is to learn the 50 plus names for sugar (and learn the new names as they almost certainly come to life.) Keep your eyes wide open to every ingredient list, especially when you opt for processed foods (which you should consider cutting down on altogether.) Be meticulous in your scrutiny of the food products you choose for yourself and your family – your health depends on it!
Image Source: Daniel Oines/Flickr