From the Office of Pediatric Nutritionist Michelle Verona-Williams
Sugar is a topic that’s always been at the forefront of health-conscious minds, but as nationwide rates of obesity rise, “sugar” has also become a buzzword for media outlets. It’s even the focus of controversial mainstream documentary Fed Up, which attempts to uncover who’s really responsible for Americans’ sugar “addiction.”
Yet as the panic surrounding sugar reaches a fever pitch, the FDA has unveiled new Nutrition Facts label. The label has a few fresh features that should make it much easier to understand what’s in your food, from a larger font for total calorie count to a neat breakdown of relevant vitamins and minerals in milligrams or micrograms. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the new label, however, is its distinction between “sugars” and “added sugars”.
What many publications ignore is that sugars aren’t the enemy; added sugars are. Human bodies were designed to metabolize the lactose in milk and the fructose in an apple. However, they weren’t made to metabolize large amounts of corn syrup and cane juice, and therein lays the problem.
The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day (about 24 grams) and men 9 teaspoons (about 36 grams) to avoid weight gain and health problems. In 2004, the average American ate more than 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day. Most of that isn’t in the form a cookie or slice of cake, though. The majority of added sugars are hiding in stuff you consume every day, like cereal and soda. Up until now, it’s been nearly impossible to tell the difference between the acceptable natural sugars and the potentially harmful added sugars.
With the FDA’s new food label, however, amounts of both types of sugar will be clearly declared.
Underneath the carbohydrate heading, you’ll see “sugars” first, with its corresponding grams, and then, beneath that “added sugars.” So, for instance, when you see that your skim milk has 12 grams of sugar, you can rest easy knowing that this is the natural sugar lactose. On the other hand, when you notice the astronomical numbers next to “added sugars” on a box of Froot Loops (12 grams), you can leave that on the shelf and reach for some Nature’s Path Organic Hot Oatmeal instead—the original variety only has 1 gram of sugar.
Until the FDA’s proposal goes through, you can keep an eye out for sugar’s many aliases on current food labels’ ingredient lists. If you don’t see “sugar,” that might be because the sweet stuff is just masquerading as evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, dextrose, maltose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane crystals, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, sucrose, or one of the other code names frequently used by food companies.
*Michelle Verona-Williams and her colleague Michelle Danella will discuss nutrition at the Co-op on Saturday, March 14 from 12:30 to 2:30 as a prequel to the showing of the film Fed Up, playing at the County Theater on March 26. They will talk about the difference between natural and added sugars in food; anti-inflammatory foods for health and weight loss; and how saturated fat, trans fat and fiber affect artery health. Michelle will also illustrate portion sizes through food models and provide an interactive demonstration on food label reading.