In the run up to Easter we have a guest post from the lovely Dorothea Hoffmann, all about the not so sweet facts behind the sugar industry. This is highly relevant seeing as the UK Government recently passed a 5% sugar tax that will come into effect within the next few years. This is a huge move considering the amount of information the Sugar Lobby has been trying to hide from consumers for so long, for the benefit of profit from confusing nutrition labels.
Sugar on Nutrition Labels
Typical nutrition facts on any food label give you percentages for the RDA – ‘daily recommended dosage’, or do they? Have you ever noticed that this information is missing for sugar? Go and take a look… Ok, I’m going to make it easy for you and show you a typical label: this one is from TreeTop Apple Juice:
I guarantee you that you won’t find recommended daily dosages for sugar anywhere. On top of that, did you know that food manufacturers are not required to specify any sugar alcohols (sweeteners and anything on the ingredient list ending in -sol)? These are part of the total carbohydrate count, which includes starch (it’s basically just another term for carbs), fiber, sugar and sugar alcohols. In our example above, there are an extra 3g of carbs, conveniently unaccounted for on all its labels.
Another fun fact: Has it ever struck you as odd that in the only country left on the planet to vigorously hold onto the imperial over metric system, nobody has ever expressed any concern about the use of a metric system on food labels? You are not meant to notice. For the average American the concept of 1 gram of sugar does not hold as much visual meaning as 1 teaspoon of sugar.
These labels are meant to be confusing, to these companies, an informed consumer, is a dangerous one because they will be well aware of the damage they are doing to their bodies via their favorite profitable sweet white drug.
The Sugar Lobby
But of course there is such a thing! Sugar accounts for 10 billion dollars in revenue annually and the industry directly employs almost 13,500 people in the US. The sugar industry has been generously donating to both political parties (note that it is the only industry favoring Democratic candidates) and it enjoys governmental subsidies that keep US sugar prices artificially at double the price of the world market.
Revenge is sweet – Eat natural sugar!
I’ve spent a blissful, entertaining and enraging evening browsing the sugar lobby’s very own website. Among many other things, I learned that: sugar is more than a “fun” food ingredient, it’s an essential one as well. Because it’s all-natural, you can consume it with confidence.
Sugar occurs naturally in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and diary products. However cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white sugar – essentially the many being used to sweeten highly processed foods, are anything but natural. The sugar lobby is not advocating for you to eat more fruit. They want you to consume their products. And these are used to enhance processed foods such as bread, sweetened or fat-free yoghurt. When was the last time you helped yourself to a delicious glass of natural high-fructose corn syrup? It might be more recently than you realise, that apple juice you had at breakfast for example.
There is no food like sweet food
The website goes on to suggest that sugar is the key factor to actually enjoy eating. Virtually any food’s flavor can, and in fact should be, enhanced by sugar. This includes vegetables and meat, brining, salt-curing, dry rubs and pickling. Sugar makes many nutritious foods taste better (whole grain bread, yogurt and cereals for example).
Lo and behold, any “good” foods that might actually taste reasonable or even delicious, without the aid of sugar. As my mother always said and as the German proverb goes: Medicine needs to be bitter to be effective. Naturally, this wisdom is seems to hold true for many edible goods as well.
Sugar-related illnesses are a myth – according to the Sugar Lobby…
Diabetes type 2 is on the rise and directly related to obesity. Could the link be any more obvious? But of course the industry does not expect you to simply believe them, its very own World Sugar Research Organisation (WSRO) backs them up (and is paid to do so, handsomely). In their own words, it is an international scientific research organisation globally supported by the sugar industry […] committed to upholding the fundamental principles of science and to relying solely on objective science in its programmes.
As an academic myself, I am frankly at a loss to understand how scientific research can be impartial if it is funded by an organisation with high-profile stakes in the outcome of the studies. This is the most blatant form of bias and competing interests. It means answering the question before they’ve even asked it. That way, you are able to shape the experimental setup and intermittent questions in ways that will invariably will lead towards the preferred conclusion. Madness!
The sugar lobby is an immensely powerful organization. It influences politics and health advice and has been very successful in advocating research to prove them right. The question is, in this health and diet conscious time, can they continue to do so? Does their science hold up to even the scientifically illiterate?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has worked on including daily recommended dosages for sugar since 2003, for 13 years the sugar lobby has rigorously opposed any such measures. Their reasoning? There is not enough science to back it up. According to them, sugar has simply become the “new cholesterol” – a convenient scapegoat for the nation’s health problems and as long as we don’t have ‘hard’ scientific evidence, no recommendations should be made as to not confuse the American public.
Despite all the sugar lobby’s hard work, in March 2015, the WHO announced its recommendations for daily added sugar doses, followed in January 2016 by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the United States. These do not include any naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
The recommended amount by the WHO is between 5 and 10%, and in the US no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake. Let me break this down for you:
You can calculate your daily caloric needs here. For me the base is about 2,000 calories:
- One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories.
- 5% of 2,000 calories are 100 calories
- 10% of 2,000 calories are 200 calories
- This means you may consume between 6 and 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Confused? Good! Again, you are meant to be because your ignorance keeps profits nice and sweet. You still don’t know how much of the Apple Juice from above you should drink in any given day given that the labels are in grams not teaspoons. Therefore you must also bare in mind the following:
- There are four grams of sugar in a teaspoon.
- This means you may consume between 24 and 48 grams of added sugar in a day.
This equals about one carton of the Apple Juice (22g), or two 8oz bottles of Gatorade (28g), or less than two (if you only calculate the sugar labeled) Oreo Cookies – per DAY.
Take Home Message:
How many of us really stick to such guidelines given that sugar is hidden in almost everything? How much extra do you think you consume a day now that you are more informed? I for one was surprised by how just how much influence a clearly self-interested conglomerate can have on a nation and even on science, despite so much evidence to the contrary. It makes you more seriously consider just who influences what we eat and whether we really know what goes into our bodies on a daily basis.