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Deceptive Sugar Labeling

Posted May 27 2010 9:32am
As if cutting back on our sugar intake isn’t already a tall order. To make it even tougher, the way sugars are listed on a nutrition label is very deceptive. The recommended daily amounts are about 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men, and most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons a day! This is resulting in weight gain and a slew of other serious health problems. Don’t let misleading labels trick you...watch for these traps.

Sugar From Fruit vs. Processed Sugar: The first problem with sugar is that the FDA does not require sugar from fruit to be listed separately from the processed sugar. This is a big problem because processed sugar has a very different effect on the body. It is broken down very quickly in the body (causing sugar spikes) and provides no nutrition, while sugar from fruit is broken down more slowly and the fruit itself provides nutrition such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. One way you would be able to deduce how much sugar comes from fruit and how much comes from processed sources would be to look at the ingredient list. However, there is a problem there too.

Confusing Sugar Ingredients: There are several types of processed sugars and/or sweeteners, and the FDA allows them to be listed separately. Since ingredients are listed in order of weight, the result is that each separate sugar and/or sweetener will be listed further down the ingredient list than it would be if all the ingredients that provided processed sugar were totaled and counted as one. If food companies were forced to label processed sugar as one total ingredient, it would actually be the 2nd or 3rd ingredient in many products – something that would probably make us think twice before purchasing the item. It would also make it more straightforward to compare sugar from fruit versus processed sugar. Since that is not the case, we have to outsmart the label and know what items to look for on an ingredient list.

What to Watch For: Besides sugar or brown sugar (obviously), watch for evaporated cane juice, fructose, sucrose, honey, maple or malt syrups, dextrose, molasses, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar (although agave is touted to be a better option because it has a lower glycemic index than sugar, many brands of agave nectar are highly refined). It’s very common for a food item to contain 4 or 5 of these ingredients listed above.

What can we do?
  • When buying juices or fruit snacks, look on the labels to see that they say “No sugar added”. This means that all of the sugar contained in the item is from natural, fruit sources.  
  • Look for low hanging fruit (pun intended) when cutting out sugar. Choose plain yogurt or start buying unsweetened soy, coconut, rice or almond milks. There is no reason to have added sugar in our milk. 
  • Sweeten your smoothies or desserts by substituting canned pumpkin or pureed dates, which provide sugar from fruit. 
  • Use a natural sweetener such as Truvia (a stevia-based, zero calorie sweetener) in your morning coffee. 
  • Opt for unsweetened oatmeal and add fruit to sweeten it. 
  • We all know this one, but it’s worth reiterating. Cut out the soda - it contains almost a whole day’s worth of sugar in one can. 

Don’t let labels sweet talk you into eating more sugar! What are you doing to cut back?

To see all of Calorista's healthier-option, low calorie food comparisons and articles,  click here.
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