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How the food industry is corrupt - article about hidden sugar in foods


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6 Foods with Hidden Sugar

By Joe Wilkes

The average American eats approximately 1,500 pounds of food every year. Of that, 160 pounds are primarily sugar. Of course, sugar is delicious, and I know I'm happier for its existence, but of all the things we consume, it has the least nutritive value. In fact, except for the energy in its calories, there's not much to recommend about sugar. It's a prime source of empty calories, and for those of us who are trying to lose weight, sugar's the first thing we should start trimming from our diets. But here's the problem—despite our best intentions to remove excess sugar from our diet, the food industry has found more and more devious ways of slipping us the sweet stuff. Whether the food industry calls sugar by another name or adds it to foods we never thought would have needed it, our sweet tooth is constantly being bombarded. Fortunately, with stricter labeling laws, we have a fighting chance at cutting back on sugar.

 

Why does the food industry want to fill us so full of sugar?

It's basically the same as any other industry. For the oil industry to make more money, it needs us to use more of its product by driving more miles. The food industry needs us to use more of its product by eating more calories. The problem is that the American food industry is already producing around 3,900 calories per person per day, which is way more than we need. One solution to this surplus is to sell the food cheaply overseas, which the industry does. The other solution is for Americans to eat more calories. And sugar and its corn-sweetener brethren are great calorie delivery systems, as they pack a huge caloric punch without causing much satiety or feeling of fullness. Most people would probably stop eating steak after they reached 1,000 calories, because they'd be stuffed, but after you drank 1,000 calories from your Big Gulp® cup, there'd still be room for dinner. The other reason the industry pushes sugar so hard is that it's cheap to produce, and the cheaper the calorie, the larger the profit margin.

Sugar in labels—hiding in plain sight.

One of the best ways to disguise the amount of sugar in a product is something the government already requires—printing the information in grams. Most Americans only have the foggiest idea of how much a gram is, because we're unaccustomed to the metric system. So when we pick up a can of soda that contains 40 grams of sugar, we pretty much shrug our shoulders and pop the top. And that attitude is all right with the soda industry! But what if the label said that it contained over 10 teaspoons of sugar? If you saw someone ladling 10 teaspoons of sugar into their morning coffee, you'd think they were crazy, but that's how much people consume in a typical 12-ounce can. A 64-ounce fountain drink you'd get at a movie theater or a convenience store contains more than 53 teaspoons of sugar—almost two cups! Naturally, people would probably think twice if the nutritional information on products was given in measurements that were meaningful to them. But until our heavily food industry–subsidized government decides to change its policy, it's a metric world, we just live in it. But we can take note that four grams equals one teaspoon. So when you check out the label, divide the grams of sugar by four, and that's how many teaspoons you're consuming.

Sugar, by any other name, would taste just as sweet.

Another strategy the sugar pushers use to get us to consume more calories is to rename the offending ingredient. We know to stay away from sugar, but how about molasses, honey, sorghum, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, sucrose, galactose, maltose, or concentrated juices like grape or apple? Another path to profit that the food industry has discovered is that instead of harvesting relatively more expensive sugar cane and beets, they can produce sweeteners in a laboratory more cheaply and with just as many calories as beet and cane sugar. And with some sweeteners, especially the popular HCFS, it is believed that your body will be less likely to reach satiety than with sugar, so you can consume more. Mo' calories, mo' money. Another advantage to these doses of -oses is that, aside from the fact that many people won't guess they're just different forms of sugar, they can be spread out in the ingredient list required by law, so it won't be as obvious that what you're consuming is pretty much all sugar. When you look at a list of ingredients on a product, the manufacturer is required to list them in order of amount, from highest to lowest. So they can bury a quarter cup of fructose, a quarter cup of sucrose, a quarter cup of dextrose, and a quarter cup of corn syrup in the middle of the list, so you won't be as likely to notice that when you add them all up, the main ingredient in the product is sugar.

Hide and seek. You're it.

So, if you're like me, you may have sworn off soda except for special occasions, and turned the candy bowl into an unsalted-almond bowl. No more sugar, no more problems. Except for this problem—the food industry has cleverly snuck its sugars into products where we never would have thought to look for sugar. It's good for the manufacturer. It jacks up the calorie load, can enhance the product's appearance (high fructose corn syrup gives hamburger buns their golden glow), and can keep our sugar jones simmering at a low boil, in case we ever decide to go back to the real thing. Here are some types of products whose labels could bear more scrutiny.

  1. 1.     Spaghetti sauce. A half cup of store-bought sauce can contain as many as three teaspoons of corn syrup or sugar. While some of the naturally occurring sugar in tomatoes and other vegetables will show up on the nutrition label, most of the sugar is added. Look for brands that don't include sugar or its aliases or make your own from fresh or canned tomatoes.
  2. 2.     Ketchup. Ketchup can be 20 percent sugar or more. Not to mention that you'll get 7 percent of your daily sodium allowance in one tablespoon. Look for low-salt, no-sugar brands, or make your own, using pureed carrots to add flavor and texture to the tomatoes.
  3. 3.     Reduced-fat cookies. Most brands of cookies now offer a reduced-fat version of their product. Nabisco® even offers its own line of low-fat treats, Snackwell's®. But while you're patting yourself on the back for choosing the low-fat option, check the label. The sneaky food manufacturers did take out the fat, but they replaced it with, you guessed it, sugar. Many times, the reduced-fat cookie is only slightly less caloric than the one you want to eat. And because there's no fat to make you feel full, you'll be tempted to eat more "guilt-free" cookies. And just because there's less fat, it doesn't mean you'll be less fat. Fat doesn't make you fat. Calories make you fat.
  4. 4.     Low-fat salad dressing. As with low-fat cookies, manufacturers have taken the fat out of the dressing, but they've added extra salt and sugar to make up for it. Check the label to make sure you're not replacing heart-healthy olive oil with diabetes-causing sugar—because that's not really a "healthy choice." Your best bet? Make your own vinaigrettes using a small amount of olive oil, a tasty gourmet vinegar or fresh lemon juice, and some fresh herbs.
  5. 5.     Bread. Most processed breads can contain a good bit of sugar or corn syrup. As always, check the ingredient label, and consider getting your bread at a real bakery or a farmers' market—it's the best idea since, well, you know.
  6. 6.     Fast food. Needless to say, fast food is generally not good for you. But even if you're staying away from the sodas and the shakes, everything from the burgers to the fries to the salads is a potential place to hide sugar. Check out the ingredients carefully at your favorite restaurant. You may be getting more than you bargained for.

 

26 Replies (last)

So? The calories are on the label, so what is the big deal if there is some sugar in it. Looking at bread, it's only a small part of the total carbs, and for things like sauces, ketchup and dressing, it's not supposed to be the main source of calories in a meal. Portion control is FAR more important than micromanaging ingredients.

I guess we agree to disagree - you should be totally aware of what you are putting in your body - and it should be clear to the average person who isn't a chemist. 

We should be able to make an informed decision and not have to worry that we are being tricked into eating what we don't want - especially when a product announces itself to be low fat or low calorie - I believe the more you know, the better you will be - or at the very least make we can make informed choices.  That's why I like to share this kind of information with people so they can either use it or say "so" as you chose to do.

I don't think putting more sugar in processed foods makes the food industry corrupt...it makes it business savvy.  If the sugary foods sell, make 'em.

It's the responsibility of the consumers to educate themselves and dictate what they will and will not purchase.

I think this article's point was to help educate the consumer.

How will the consumer be educated if they don't know what to look for? It took for me to take a college chemistry class to know that words ending in -ose were sugars. It took for me to join CC to care about sugars and understand the effect that too much processed sugar can have on appetite.

I think a good point is that it's hard to eat sugar "moderately" if it's in everything processed. Which is why it's in our best interest to eat real food, as it grows out the ground, or as it's born from its mommy.

Thanks for sharing this article! Maybe someone who doesn't know it all already will be able to take this article and learn from it.

Great article! Thank you for sharing. Don't forget about "low-calorie" yogurts as well.

Sure as long we know what's up - which is why I posted this.  Did you really know that there are two cups of sugar in a fountain pop??  That's great if you did - I didn't!!  Alot of teens think they have to eat less potatoes, chicken, apples...to lose weight - when really, most of them just have to give up the empty calorie food....like fountain pop.  

I think it IS deceitful of the industry as this article suggests and this is HOW the consumer can become more informed - the sharing of information.  

I appreciate this post.  I kinda sorta work in the food industry (packaging) and type up nutrition panels all the time.  While I do know how to count calories and I know to avoid HFCS, I didn't know that tidbit about dividing the grams by 4 to get how many teaspoons there are in a serving.  Very handy info!  Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for sharing this info.   The healthy diet is getting harder and harder to regulate and maintain. Sugar, salt - always something to look out for.  Someone had mentioned yogurt - one yogurt I avoid at all costs is anything with "fruit-on-the-bottom". 

Original Post by maxx86:

It's the responsibility of the consumers to educate themselves and dictate what they will and will not purchase.

 Agreed 100%!

   

gilt
Apr 23 2010 18:57
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Original Post by anewdawn:

Sure as long we know what's up - which is why I posted this.  Did you really know that there are two cups of sugar in a fountain pop??  That's great if you did - I didn't!!  Alot of teens think they have to eat less potatoes, chicken, apples...to lose weight - when really, most of them just have to give up the empty calorie food....like fountain pop.  

I think it IS deceitful of the industry as this article suggests and this is HOW the consumer can become more informed - the sharing of information.  

 While I agree with the idea that people have to educate themselves I'm going to have disagree with you on the idea people (more specifically teens) think that they have to give up apples over soda.  Most people, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds and limited education know that an apple is a better choice than a soda.

While people may not know the difference between sucrose and fructose, and gaining that knowledge is always good, I very much doubt if you walked into a grade 10 class and asked the students if an apple or a diet coke was better for them that they would chose the diet coke. 

It is not particularly deceptive of food industries to formulate their foods with things that taste good.  That is their business... it is always the consumers responsibility to know what they are putting in their mouths.  People spend months deciding what car to buy but no time deciding if a box of oreos are the best choice over veggies.  Your job as a consumer and a participant in society is to be informed.  Your choice to not be informed is not the food industries fault.

Original Post by anewdawn:

But until our heavily food industry–subsidized government decides to change its policy, it's a metric world, we just live in it.  

Now, I'm all for taking the food industry to task for some of its more deceptive practices ("improved taste!"  "trans fat free!" "all natural"), but really, of all the things to criticize the food industry or the government for, the use of the metric system is one of the lamest things I've ever heard. 

If educating yourself as a consumer is key to improving and maintaining your health, then that includes metric equivalents.

Original Post by gilt:

Original Post by anewdawn:

Sure as long we know what's up - which is why I posted this.  Did you really know that there are two cups of sugar in a fountain pop??  That's great if you did - I didn't!!  Alot of teens think they have to eat less potatoes, chicken, apples...to lose weight - when really, most of them just have to give up the empty calorie food....like fountain pop.  

I think it IS deceitful of the industry as this article suggests and this is HOW the consumer can become more informed - the sharing of information.  

 While I agree with the idea that people have to educate themselves I'm going to have disagree with you on the idea people (more specifically teens) think that they have to give up apples over soda.  Most people, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds and limited education know that an apple is a better choice than a soda.

While people may not know the difference between sucrose and fructose, and gaining that knowledge is always good, I very much doubt if you walked into a grade 10 class and asked the students if an apple or a diet coke was better for them that they would chose the diet coke. 

It is not particularly deceptive of food industries to formulate their foods with things that taste good.  That is their business... it is always the consumers responsibility to know what they are putting in their mouths.  People spend months deciding what car to buy but no time deciding if a box of oreos are the best choice over veggies.  Your job as a consumer and a participant in society is to be informed.  Your choice to not be informed is not the food industries fault.

 Of course teens know an apple is better than a pop (not diet...diet wouldn't have two cups of sugar in it)  - but in my experience - that being raising three kids through the teen years - plus their friends...plus the kids my friends raised..there are alot of teens who say they have to go on a diet...while they hold a Big Gulp in one hand with a bag of chips in the other.  I would never let my girls go on a diet - I told them that if they were concerned about their muffin tops - start giving up...or limiting at least...the amount of empty calories they consume. 

If the kids actually knew how much sugar was in the pop - in a tangible way they can relate to - it might make that decision in 7-11 between a Big Gulp or a bottle of water more of a conscious decision.  The only way to try to do that is through education.  If the kids know it, and we know it....why do high school cafeteria's get away with selling absolute garbage (not all cases I know!!) or why do we allow vending machines full of pop and chips and chocolate bars to be placed in public schools?  What may be obvious to you isn't obvious to many - otherwise why would there be an obesity epidemic in the first place? 

 

Original Post by anewdawn:

...why do we allow vending machines full of pop and chips and chocolate bars to be placed in public schools?   

 Because soda and snack manufacturers pay the schools money to do so.

Take this a little further:  ^Why do schools need the money?  Because schools are underfunded and are desparately trying to overcome budget shortfalls that don't involve cancelling programs or laying off teachers.

Drill down a little further, and this isn't always a simple thing to address.  That being said, I fully applaud the schools that have decided to ban soda and snack machines from their campuses.

Me too!  I really liked my sons high school also who only sold hamburger/fries/pizza etc on Friday's and only offered healthy choices during the rest of the week - teaching moderation.  Thought that was brilliant!

I cut back on sugar and now I have to read the ingredients list of everything I buy that is processed.  Sugar is not good for you and should be the first thing that someone should cut back on if they want to lose weight.

Thanks for the article, it reminded me of the book "Sugar Blues" by William Dufty.

The only part I didn't like was the bashing of the metric system!!! The entire world has embraced the metric system...it's way easier than the British system of measurement.  Since I use a scale, I'm aware of food in terms of grams. I even write my recipes down in grams! I think the food industry is joining the world in embracing this easier system. 

You know - I am embarrassed to say I don't know grams like I would tsp!  I was in Grade 7ish when Canada went metric and there are things I can tell better metric and things I can tell better imperial still to this day!  You're right - I shall make a conscious effort to try to think in terms of metric when cooking and label reading!  :) 

This point in this article that I take issue with is the argument that more calories = higher profit margin and that the food industry needs us to use more of it's product by eating more calories.  He's basically saying that they sell calories as their product when that's not really true.  A better argument might be that as we eat more calories and gain weight then we require more calories to sustain ourselves and so a cycle begins. A more likely scenario though is that food items high in sugar that aren't filling make us feel better longer because we can consumer more of them and consume them more consistently throughout our day which in turn creates more of a demand for them.  The calorie ratio is more of a reason this happens but not really a motivation for it.

Also, the argument that companies are trying to get rid of their 'surplus' by selling it overseas makes no sense.  Food companies intentionally make the products and sell them overseas to meet demand and for a profit.  Hardly a surplus scenario.

I would so love to be able to hook up Beach Body.com so they can see and respond to these comments!  :)  It would be a very informative and entertaining debate - but heh, at least we are talking about it right?  I don't know about any of you but when I disagree with something I google the heck out of it to see if I am right or the person I disagree with is which always results in me coming out better informed - which is what it's all about!  :)

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