Just when we thought sugar was sugar and “no” meant “no” the food industry throws us another curve ball and tricks us again with their sneaky labels! I recently wrote this article for The New Hampshire (UNH’s student newspaper) about the sneaky slogans advertisers try to use to get you to think that their product is healthier than the one on the shelf below it (think reduced fat, lean, light etc), and have fallen fool to these same scams so many times that I decided it’s time to put an end to the lies. I’m breaking up with fancy labels and dedicating myself to a life of nutriton facts!
Although any normal person who’s used a thesaurus once or twice would probably assume that “sugar free” and “no sugar added” mean the same thing, they don’t. They also don’t necessarily mean that the option labeled this way is healthy.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) places strict rules on the way we define consumable terms. A product with less than 0.5 grams of sugar can be labeled “sugar free”, while “no sugar added” denotes that no sugar was added to the product during processing. (FDA Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims)
Neither of these terms mean that there is no sugar in the product. Sugar occurs naturally in healthy foods like fruit, milk and even some vegetables. Both sugar free and no sugar can also contain artificial sweeteners in unlimited amounts.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes and are often found in abundance in processed cakes, crackers and cookies. They can be made completely of chemicals or derived from herbs or even sugar itself. Currently, the FDA approves 6 sugar substitutes as safe for human consumption:
1. Aspartame (Equal)
2. Saccharin (Sweet’N low)
3. Sucralose (Splenda)
4. Acesulfame potassium
These sweeteners seem like pretty attractive alternatives to sugar because they contain no added calories and are often extremely sweet, requiring only a small amount at each sitting. However, these sweeteners have been a topic of public scrutiny for decades. Despite their controversy, the National Cancer Institue along with other health agencies have found no scientific evidence to prove that consuming artificial sweeteners can cause cancer or any other health problems ( NCI ).
Artificial sweeteners are popular among those trying to control their weight as well as people with dibetes. Dentists often recommend artificial sweeteners to patients particularly prone to cavities. ( Diabetes.org )
When choosing your sweetener of choice, it is important to keep your goals in mind. While artificial sweeteners may aid in cavity prevention and weight loss, they may not be ideal for someone who is focused on eating a “clean” chemical-free diet. Also keep in mind that processed foods often dont offer the same nutrient density that whole foods do and you never have to worry about health risks of consuming fruits and veggies!