Monitoring Added Sugars In Your Diet
You've probably seen coverage from media outlets, research studies, and documentaries about how drinking sugar-sweetened beverages negatively affects Americans’ health. Drinking added sugar is linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and consequently early death. A ban on excessive amounts of the sweet stuff - from sodas to sweetened ice teas to energy drinks - has been proposed. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing fast food restaurants not serve sugar-sweetened beverages in excess of 16 ounces. But just how effective would this policy be calorie-wise if it passes?
Limiting Soda Can Save Calories
According to a recent Gallup Poll of over 1,000 respondents, 48% of Americans drink at least one glass of soda every day. While the survey does not define the measurement of a glass, we’ll assume that to mean a tall glass or 12 ounces which matches the size of a regular can of soda (how many of us even own 8-ounce glassware anymore?). The poll reveals 28% of drinkers consume a glass, while another 20% drink two or more glasses for an average of 2.6 glasses a day. That’s about 30 ounces or roughly 350 calories. After excluding the 28% that fall in under the 16 oz. ban, we’re looking at 20% of people drinking more than the limit in a day. If we assume the limit will bring these multi-glass drinkers to just one 16 ounce serving, which is pretty unrealistic, we’ve saved about 162 calories a day. Over a year’s time that’s the equivalent of almost 17 pounds. A more accurate experiment of fast food eateries in four separate cities gave a much less remarkable result. Scientists studied the 1,624 receipts from consumers and determined just 62% of all beverages purchased would be subject to the 16 oz. limit. Without the policy, the mean calories per customer of sugar-sweetened beverages were 197±113 kcal. From this, they determined if all consumers switched to 16 oz. from the 32 oz. size, 63 calories would be saved. However, that’s still about 7 pounds over 365 days.
Labeling Added Sugar
While California law stipulates including calorie counts on fast food menus, the practice is not a nationwide practice. Because processed foods are the source of the bulk of Americans’ added sugar intake, the broader battlefield of limiting calories from added sugar is exposing how much is in the foods we eat. Though the NYC limit would save calories for consumers at fast food restaurants, most may not notice the difference even if they did lower their intake. But what if consumers could tell how much added sugar they were eating in foods they eat at home? It’s not as simple as reading the nutrition label. As it stands, nutrition facts labels do not distinguish added sugars from naturally occurring sugar, but a new proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to test how this knowledge will affect consumer behavior. Just as the food industry is fighting against Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, they are fighting mad at even the hint of studying how the addition of an “added sugar” label will work. In addition to The Center for Science in the Public Interest and The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, the American Heart Association is all for adding an added sugar label to the Nutrition Facts pointing out, “In addition to the AHA, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, MyPlate.gov, and countless other sources of dietary guidance recommend that consumers limit consumption of added sugars. Yet this can be difficult to do because added sugars are not currently included on the Nutrition Facts label.”
Added Sugars' Culprits
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Consumption in America survey, in 2000, Americans consumed on average 32 teaspoons of added sugar per person per day. But where else does all that sugar come from? A report by the American Heart Association gives some insight with their Sugars 101 report. There, they list the calories from added sugar per serving in processed food. Carbonated soda does top the list, but check out the rest of the list which includes cereal, non-fat fruit yogurt, peaches in heavy syrup, pancake syrup, and milk chocolate just to name a few. Did we also mention coffee? Some creamers have added sugar in them, adding a double punch for those of us who add a packet or three of sugar. This all adds up to one fact: added sugar is a big part of the American diet that did not start, nor will it end, if people don't stop drinking soda. The first step to winning the war against added sugar might be to expose it wherever it is, and then provide education on the healthier alternatives.
If you want to start to draw down your sugar-sweetened beverage intake, click here for some alternatives. If you know that most of your added sugar intake comes from food, check your intake of bread, cereals, salad dressings, and other condiments.
How would an “added sugar” label change your consumption of your favorite foods?