The Sugar Empire Strikes Back

Did you think the sugar industry would take the latest NY soda regulations lightly? Hardly. Among other things they placed this ad in yesterday’s New York Times. I edited it somewhat for clarity, in red:

sodas480

Did you notice something funny about their arguments?

They don’t even try to argue that sugar is ok for your weight. Instead they argue that as there’s even more massive amounts of sugar added to “food” (e.g. candy) in America, soda is not a problem. Not very clever I think.

Of course, cherry-picking statistics can be done in different ways:

How about this?

Soda Per Capita

Source

23 Comments

Top Comment

  1. FrankG
    Then there is the question as to how we define the term "sugar"...

    On N. American nutritional labels "sugar" is usually only counted as the "simple" mono- and di-sacharides like glucose, fructose, sucrose (glucose + fructose) BUT if you subtract the "sugar" amount plus the Fibre amount from the "Total Carbohydrates" amount they rarely add up... the difference is termed "Starches" and it matters not (on the label) if those are complex natural starches or (more likely in packaged food) refined man-made starches like Maltodextrin -- which is very rapidly digested to Glucose.

    So who tests these foods and labels them? An independent, unbiased lab (not a chance) or the food manufacturers themselves (bingo!)... and are they allowed a margin of error AND are they allowed to claim ZERO if the amount is below a given threshold (but still greater than zero)... what do you think

    Now imagine the scenario where you work for say pepsico and want to market your food in a more positive light than the competition... maybe if we just tweak this recipe so the amount of HFCS goes down and the Maltodextrin goes up. Now we can claim LESS SUGAR while it is still every bit as sweet and unhealthy as before!

    So now to get the full picture we need to read the label, be skilled at mental arithmetic AND look at the complete list of ingredients... or we could just rely on the heart healthy logo on the front of the package ;-)

    As for the list of ingredients, these are listed in order of greatest to least (by volume or weight) -- so here's another neat little trick: break the "sweeteners" into as many different sugars and refined starches as possible so they are hidden in and lower down the list of ingredients; because each one of them by itself is only a small amount.

    Nutritional labels have become a marketing tool... but you understand it is all done in the interest of public health and safety.

    Read more →

All Comments

  1. Wow nice graph doc! Definitely gave me pause. I'm gonna start showing that to patients!
  2. Tom
    "According to the CDC data, sugar-sweetened beverages make up just 7% of the average diet."

    That's like saying cyanide isn't harmful because it is only consumed by 0.001% of the population.

  3. It's obviously time to make sugar illegal. The successful War on Drugs makes this imperative. Of course, SFAs might get hit in the crossfire (as they have in Denmark), but that's a small price to pay, and it will all get sorted out in the end (when we elect the right people to regulate what we eat).

    Thanks, Andreas, for your courageous stand against the evil American sugar lobby.

  4. FrankG
    Then there is the question as to how we define the term "sugar"...

    On N. American nutritional labels "sugar" is usually only counted as the "simple" mono- and di-sacharides like glucose, fructose, sucrose (glucose + fructose) BUT if you subtract the "sugar" amount plus the Fibre amount from the "Total Carbohydrates" amount they rarely add up... the difference is termed "Starches" and it matters not (on the label) if those are complex natural starches or (more likely in packaged food) refined man-made starches like Maltodextrin -- which is very rapidly digested to Glucose.

    So who tests these foods and labels them? An independent, unbiased lab (not a chance) or the food manufacturers themselves (bingo!)... and are they allowed a margin of error AND are they allowed to claim ZERO if the amount is below a given threshold (but still greater than zero)... what do you think

    Now imagine the scenario where you work for say pepsico and want to market your food in a more positive light than the competition... maybe if we just tweak this recipe so the amount of HFCS goes down and the Maltodextrin goes up. Now we can claim LESS SUGAR while it is still every bit as sweet and unhealthy as before!

    So now to get the full picture we need to read the label, be skilled at mental arithmetic AND look at the complete list of ingredients... or we could just rely on the heart healthy logo on the front of the package ;-)

    As for the list of ingredients, these are listed in order of greatest to least (by volume or weight) -- so here's another neat little trick: break the "sweeteners" into as many different sugars and refined starches as possible so they are hidden in and lower down the list of ingredients; because each one of them by itself is only a small amount.

    Nutritional labels have become a marketing tool... but you understand it is all done in the interest of public health and safety.

  5. Margaretrc
    @FrankG All true.

    Doctor Eenfeldt. I can only hope that they are fighting back because they're scared. Scared we are finally catching on and not buying their crap any more!

  6. Will
    I don't blame them for doing this ad. They'll be out of a job if people realized the truth about sugar.
    How about the American Diabetes Association. Read this:
    http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sweetene...
    That sounds like an article from the onion. Hilarious to read.
    Maybe they too are protecting their jobs. If nobody had diabetes... who would need an american diabetes association.
  7. Heather Barker
    The FDA has this week June 1st 2012, denied a request from the Corn Refiners Association to use the term "corn sugar" as an alternate name for "high fructose corn syrup," according to a letter issued to the Corn Refiners Association. What's in a name? Many of us around the world are just learning the importance of reading food labels and in New Zealand you can often see people walking the aisles of supermarkets trying to find food which hasn't got sugar in it but it isn't easy. And diabetes and heart disease are a major problem in NZ especially since we get statins and are subjected to additional dietary advise like eat lots of grains and margarine!!
  8. How to define sugar is actually a problem. Food labels claiming "No added sugar" are usual here in Sweden on things like jam. When you read the small print on the label it turns out they use highly concentraded apple-, pear- or grapejuice instead to sweeten the stuff. Same amount of sugar but the consumer is fooled.
  9. moreporkplease
    "In Richmond [California], which has a substantial African-American and Latino population and where poverty rates are double the national average, an estimated 52 percent of elementary school students are overweight or obese, said Dr. Wendel Brunner, the director of public health for Contra Costa County, which includes Richmond.

    As in other places, soda consumption is highest among teenagers, with more than two-thirds downing 1.8 sugar-sweetened beverages a day. Based on 242 calories a serving for a 20-ounce bottle of Coke, that equals roughly 150,000 extra calories and can lead to more than 20 pounds of weight gain a year, Dr. Brunner said. ....

    “What don’t I have?” asked Rita Cerda, a longtime soda devotee, ticking off her ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. She is also overweight.

    “I have problems drinking water,” she said. “I don’t like water.”

    Richmond's proposed soda tax, a license fee on businesses selling sweetened drinks, would require owners of bodegas, theaters, convenience stores and other outlets to tally ounces sold and, presumably, pass the cost on to customers. It is the most visible West Coast municipal challenge yet to Big Soda, as advocates are fond of calling it."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/us/richmond-calif-seeks-to-tax-swee...

  10. Violeta A.
    As much as I think sugar is evil, I also think regulating it by the government is only going to make the already quite creative marketing of most packaged/canned products even more creative :-) If sugar is taxed/regulated the producers are going to find new/better ways to hide its content in their products. And suddenly, we will have no sugar in anything but HFCS and tons of other substances which may be equally - or even more - harmful. The best way to regulate this will be for people to stop buying these products. When more and more people start to realize their harm this will happen naturally. But of course it will take more time and educative effort than a governmental regulation. However, I think it will be more effective. Just my 2 cents.
  11. The problem with using maps like that is that the same type of evidence can be used to argue against low carb:

    http://evilgnome6.blogspot.com/2012/06/cherry-picking-statistics.html

  12. Soul
    Thought you would get a kick out of this article:

    "Soft drinks are the whipping boy of anti-obesity campaigns"

    http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/06/01/soda-ban/?intcmp=features

  13. Mike,
    Of course correlation does not prove causation. However, the soda map shows a more impressive correlation than the meat one if you ask me. ;)
  14. The link between obesity and meat consumption in USA is related to the fact that USA meat is mainly from industrially raised corn/grain fed from feedlots or other intensive indoor omega 6 rich production units. There is a big difference between USA meat production and UK (EU) meat production MOST of which is pasture raised for MOST of it's life. The combination of inflammation from omega 6 rich meats combined with inflammation from sugars/hfcs /wheat or other grains in populations who have low anti-inflammatory reserves (low vit d, omega 3,magnesium,melatonin) is one of the keys to obesity.
    The more intensively reared the meat is the more likely it is that antibiotics will have been used and traces of those antibiotics + antibiotic resistant bacteria will be present in that meat.
    So given antibiotic use in intensive meat production increases fat content + weight gain. it's not surprising people eating antibiotic laced meats together with antibiotic resistant bacteria also acquire an enhanced propensity to gain weight via adipose tissue.
  15. Suzie
    I wonder if the 23% reduction in the average calories per serving between 1998 and 2010 was because they made the serving sizes smaller?
  16. BA
    What I would really be interested in seeing is clinical evidence that shows a statistically significant benefit to risk factors by eating grass-fed beef versus factory-farmed. I think it's very plausible that the overall anti-inflammatory effect of eating low carbohydrates in general might dwarf the difference.

    In practice, I'm very concerned that "the perfect" is the enemy of "the good", and maybe getting too much into the minutae of meat sources in health advice might deter people from following LCHF if they perceive it as too hard.

  17. bill
    I agree with BA. The cost of grass fed beef in my area is 5 or more times the cost of conventional beef. Also, the availability is severely limited.

    My experience with LCHF has been great and I eat conventional beef.

    Some advocates of LCHF say to get dairy products from only grass fed cows, as if this is a difficult thing. Very few dairy cows are fed any substantial part of their diet anything other than grass or hay. That would be prohibitively expensive. So dairy generally is from grass fed cows.

    Just lay off the carbs.

  18. Alexandra M
    @ #3 "The successful War on Drugs..."

    Erm ... Is that irony?

    What I find interesting about the map, though, is the northeastern corner of Arizona: extremely low soda consumption, extremely high T2 Diabetes rate. The northeast corner of Arizona also contains large Hopi and Navajo reservations, where there are also high rates of alcoholism.

  19. Al
    I think something written between the lines of these two maps is small but intense incidence of diabetes without soda consumption. But wait, those areas are Native American reservations... what sort of food do you suppose the govt subsidizes those areas with? Hmmmmm.

    -Al

  20. Wow - the graphic really illustrate the point.
  21. Diane
    Yesterday I purchased black pepper in the spice department. There were two cans of "pure black pepper" on the shelf. One was $5 and the other only $1.69. I picked up the cheaper one. It had about a dozen ingredients, including sugar. Sugar is in everything in the US, even in something labeled "pure" black pepper.
  22. Joyce
    I wonder what will happen to sugar usage given the devastating drought this year. Or if it will have any impact at all.

    @Diane - Pepper? Never even occurred to me to check that.

  23. Diego
    I think the best approach to not be fooled by the new redesign and rearrangement of the nutritional facts table on industrialized products would be... to simply stop buying those, at least until the food industry find a way to add sugar and its synonyms to stuff like veggies and meat.

    If you're hungry and there's no real food available, just cope up with it. You're not gonna die.

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