Will the FDA’s new Nutrition Facts Label lead to a whole new wave of trickery by the food companies?
On May 20, 2016 the FDA finalized the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. Among some other minor changes, the FDA is requiring food manufacturers to identify all “added sugars” in food products. Previously, these added sugars were lumped in with the “Total Carbohydrates” section of the label, and only naturally occurring sugars were identified. “Total Sugars,” in the past, have included added sugars, but this new label will expose those added sugars on an additional section of the label. Manufacturers will need to implement this new label by July 26, 2018. However, manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply. Here’s a glimpse at the new label changes:
The FDA recommends that Americans consume less than 12.5 teaspoons of added sugars per day. The average American consumes 60% more sugar than that allowance. Many health organizations believe that the daily limit of added sugar intake should be as little as 6 teaspoons per day. Though these new regulations are still based on a macro-nutrient ratio that is completely out of whack, they are at the very least, a step in the right direction. I would imagine it’s difficult to squabble over the US daily allowance for added sugars with a government organization that still thinks Kellogg’s frosted flakes are healthier than an avocado.
There are many reasons that processed food companies started utilizing “added sugars” in the production of their products. Due to an alarming rise in incidents of fatal heart attacks and heart disease in the late 70s, the US government implemented the dietary guidelines for America that mandated a reduction in dietary fats. This change was based on research that had not been proven, and was concocted by unqualified legislators instead of Nutritional Scientists. The food companies then had to reformulate their recipes to accommodate these new guidelines. The reduction and/or removal of dietary fat required that they be replaced by one of, or a combination of the two remaining macronutrients. Since many sources of fat were also rich with protein, the addition of carbohydrates was the only logical choice to fill that void. Sugar, being the Queen Mother of all carbohydrates, also happened to be delicious. The food companies discovered that the addition of sugars would not only improve taste, texture and palatability, but also improve shelf life. Scientific studies have indicated that “added sugars” also enhances addict-ability, which would obviously improve profitability. All of this to the unfortunate detriment of the public health. Sugars are undisputedly the main contributor to the obesity/diabetes epidemic that has plagued our country for the last three decades. This video illustrates the situation in a brief, yet entertaining way:
Processed food companies have become notorious for taking liberties with the truth in an effort to hide the existence of these added sugars from the consumer. Some of the language used on food labels would be more appropriate in the urban dictionary than on a list of ingredients. Their attempts at hiding “added sugars” on food labels have been nothing short of comical. As far as I can tell, there are nearly 300 different words being used to describe sugar on food labels in the US (a liberal estimation). Listed below are some of the most common:
Agave, Agave nectar, Anhydrous, Caramel, Carbitol, Corn sweetener, Crystalline fructose, Barley malt, Dextran, Dextrose, Diastatic malt, Diglycerides, Disaccharides, Diastase, Erythritol, Ethyl maltol, Florida crystals, Fructooligosaccharides, Fructose, Fructose crystals, Galactose, Glucitol, Glucoamine, Glucose, Glucose solids, Hexitol, Honey, Inversol, Isomalt, Lactose, Malt, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Mannitol, Muscovado, Nectar, Panocha, Pentose, Sorbitol, Sorghum, Sucanat, Sucanet, Sucrose, Treacle, Xylitol, Xylose, Zylose.
Barbados sugar, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Cane sugar, Coconut sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, Castor sugar, Date sugar, Demerara sugar, Evaporated sugar cane, Free Flowing Brown Sugars, Golden sugar, Granulated Sugar, Grape sugar, Glazing sugar, Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Malt sugar, Maple sugar, Organic raw sugar, Powdered Sugar, Raw sugar, Table sugar, Turbinado sugar, White sugar, Yellow sugar
Buttered syrup, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Carob syrup, Evaporated cane syrup, Golden syrup, Glucose syrup, High Frustose Corn Syrup, King’s syrup, Malt syrup, Maple syrup, Molasses, Raisin syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Sorghum syrup.
Will the FDA’s new Nutrition label lead to a whole new wave of trickery by the food companies? …oh, you betcha!
Now that the FDA has issued a moratorium on “added sugars” with their required inclusion on product labels, the food companies are going to have to get even more clever when attempting to hide their existence from the general public. Since the FDA’s announcement in 2014, many (most) food companies have been lobbying feverishly to squash these new regulations, but to no avail. Now they have no other recourse than to squabble over the minutia. One sugar lobby has already confronted the FDA with the claim that the teaspoon is a misleading unit of measurement. While another claims that grams are confusing. Let there be no doubt, the food companies will be doing everything within their power to blur the lines as to what “added sugars” actually are.
Sugar accounts for a small fraction of U.S. farm output, but the industry contributes more to congressional campaign coffers than any other commodity producer. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between 2007 and 2015 growers donated more than $22 million. They have money, and they are not afraid to spend it. The sugar lobby’s power and influence should not be underestimated. They will most certainly be wielding cash to discover/create loopholes that we haven’t even thought of yet. “There is likely to be litigation over what is and isn’t added sugar,” said Stephen Gardner, an attorney at the Dallas-based Stanley Law Group and former director of litigation at CSPI. A case will likely be made that sugar additives that are naturally occurring in nature, or that contain a slight modicum of minerals should not be counted amongst added sugars. Professor Jeremy Kees, a nutrition label expert from Villanova University School of Business, who has consulted for both the FDA and the food industry, said that he believes that the label change will have a relatively small impact on consumers, “I think front of pack labeling has more potential to have a bigger impact on consumers.”
All natural, All natural ingredients, Natural, Organic, Pure, Raw, Unrefined, Wholesome, DOES NOT mean “healthy“. You’re going to be seeing this terminology used at nauseum. These words will likely be used liberally on front label packaging containing “natural” sweeteners. The sugar lobby will argue that sweeteners that come from fruit and other natural sources should not be counted as added sugars. The problem is, the sugar that comes from fruit and most other natural sources is just NOT healthier, NOT different in any substantive way from the sugar that comes from sugarcane. This misunderstanding is exactly how food producers will exploit this rule. They will add apple juice or agave to everything that kids eat, and then their product will technically have no “added sugars,” even when they actually have loads of added sugars. Food companies would like nothing more than to trick you into believing that their product is somehow wholesome, or “good for you” just because it’s sweetened naturally.
The term organic is regulated currently by the USDA, for the production of meats, poultry and eggs only. The FDA has no regulation for the use of the term organic and neither organization has implemented hard fast rules for the use of the word natural.
” … but it’s all natural!” You say …
Oh yeah, well so is cyanide.
“How bout a nice little poison ivy salad with some cow dung mushrooms, black mold croutons and a crude oil dressing? Perhaps you could wash it down with a lovely poison oak tea? …“
…why not, it’s natural?!! Did you know that 97% of the vegetation that grows on the planet is not fit for human consumption, and it’s all natural. Here’s a breakdown of some of the natural sweeteners that the health food community often claim are healthy:
Agave (nectar or syrup) – A very popular sweetener in the natural health community. This sweetener is often considered a healthy alternative to sugar because it’s low on the glycemic index. The harmful effects of sugar have little to do with the glycemic scale, and everything to do with the fact that Agave is very high in fructose content. Repetitive fructose consumption can lead to insulin resistance which will chronically elevate blood sugar and insulin levels. Sugar is nearly 50% fructose, while Agave contains 70-90% fructose, far worse than sugar gram for gram.
Raw Organic Cane Sugar – Many so called “health products” are sweetened with raw, organic sugar. Organically grown sugar has the same chemical composition as “regular” sugar. The fact that it “raw” or how it’s processed means nothing, our bodies metabolizes it in exactly the same way.
Evaporated Cane Juice – This one always makes me laugh. Do food companies really think that describing the way the Cane Sugar is processed is going to make it sound healthier? This one is just deception plain and simple. Evaporated cane juice IS sugar.
Brown Sugar – Molasses forms as a by-product of the sugar refining process and is often added back in small amounts giving the sugar a brown color. Molasses is about 50% sugar and contains a small amount of minerals. Brown sugar is regular sugar diluted with a slightly less unhealthy, less concentrated sugar. The tiny amount of minerals hardly make up for it’s contribution towards insulin resistance.
Coconut Sugar – Derived from the circulating fluid of the coconut plant.The processing method is very natural… it simply involves extracting the fluid, then allowing the water to evaporate. Coconut sugar contains a small amount of fiber and a few nutrients, also has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. However, the glycemic index is just shy of irrelevant when it comes to the harmful effects of sugar. What really matters is whether this product is high in fructose or not. Coconut sugar is actually very high in fructose. It contains a small amount of free fructose, but 75-80% of it is sucrose, which is half fructose. That’s about 35-45% total fructose. Due to its slightly smaller amount of fructose than sugar, and the tiny amounts of fiber and nutrients, you could say that coconut sugar is less unhealthy than regular sugar, gram for gram. However… being “less unhealthy” than sugar does NOT make it healthy.
Honey – Contains some nutrients which includes antioxidants and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, it is 80% sugar, by weight. Several studies have compared honey to plain sugar and noted that honey has slightly less harmful effects on metabolism. This is yet another example of a sweetener that is slightly “less unhealthy” than sugar. While a better choice than high fructose corn syrup, it is not recommended if your goal is weight loss.
I know what you might be thinking …is this the part in the article where he reminds us that we can satisfy our sweet-tooth with fiber rich fruits and berries? Is this just a full on assault on all things sweet? Must we live our days tasting only saltiness, sourness and bitterness if we want to eat healthy? Have we been presented with a problem that has no solution? Does the food industry even have healthy options for added sugar? What’s with all the questions?
I think both Doctors and Dietitians would agree that a healthy diet would exclude eating processed foods that are subject to added sugars in the first place. The foods products that are designed and formulated to target children are most egregious offenders in this battle against added sugars. Sugar IS an addictive substance and that’s not just an opinion, that’s a fact. 1 out of every 3 children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight. These children have a 70% chance of becoming obese adults.
THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS: The food companies DO have healthy (or at least “not unhealthy”) options in regards to the added sugars they use in their products!
Stevia – A very popular low-calorie sweetener that currently holds a 13% share of the artificial sweetener market in spite of the fact that it is not artificial. It is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana. This plant has been grown for sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries in South America. There are several sources of sweetness found in Stevia leaves, the main ones are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. Both are many hundred times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram, with virtually no calories. There have been several studies conducted with humans revealing Stevia to have health benefits. When blood pressure is high, Stevia can lower it by 6-14%. However, it has no effect on blood pressure that is normal, or only mildly elevated. Stevia has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. There have also been studies in rats showing that Stevia can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol, and reduce plaque build up in the arteries. Stevia also has the greatest consumer availability than most of the other safe sugar replacements.
Erythritol – is low-calorie sweetener. It’s a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in certain fruits It contains 0.24 calories per gram, that’s about 6% of the calories that sugar has, with 70% of the sweetness. Erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels and has no effect on biomarkers like cholesterol or triglycerides. It is absorbed into the body from the intestine, but is excreted from the kidneys unchanged. Studies show that erythritol is very safe. However, same as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive issues if you consume too much at a time. Erythritol tastes very much like sugar, although it can have a mild aftertaste.
Xylitol – is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to sugar. It contains 2.4 calories per gram, or about 60% of the caloric value of sugar. Xylitol has some benefits for dental health, reducing the risk of cavities and dental decay. It has also been attributed to improved bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis. Xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. However, as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive side effects if consumed in high doses. Xylitol is toxic to dogs, but completely safe for humans.
Yacon Syrup – is harvested from the Yacon plant, which is native to the Andes in South America. This sweetener has recently become popular as a weight loss supplement because one study found that it caused significant weight loss in overweight women. It is high in fructooligosaccharides content, which functions as a soluble fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your intestines. Yacon syrup can help reverse constipation.
Monk fruit (luo han guo) – is a fruit native to China and northern Thailand. It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat obesity and diabetes. Luo han guo is a cousin of the cucumber, and contains mongrosides. Studies are underway to discover whether there is truth to the claim that these monogrosides inhibit tumor growth. Luo han quo has antioxidant properties, and may help manage diabetes. Because these antioxidants have inhibitory effects on blood sugar levels, they may also defend against heart disease. Teas made from luo han guo have been known to relieve throat inflammation or cough, cool heat stroke, help with elimination in the elderly, and aide in the relief of digestive distress.
The Bottom of the Bottom Line:
The Food Industry DOES in fact have healthy/not unhealthy options in regards to the use of added sweeteners to improve the palatability of their processed foods. The real question is – Will they utilize their considerable resources ($) to litigate in an effort to maintain the status quo? Will they direct their money towards developing and improving upon the use, production and implementation of healthier options? Though the most likely scenario is a combination of both (skewed heavily on the side of litigation) my hope is that the FDA will stand strong and not allow politics to influence the ingredients included in products targeting our country’s children.
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