Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Policy Point Wednesday: Sugar. Again.

The excellent blog The Lunch Tray alerted me to the recently released report Consumption of Added Sugar Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2005–2008

The finding I thought most surprising? Most added sugars consumed by children are eaten at home - as TLT points out, presumably under parental supervision. The study debunks the myth that race and income are major factors in sugar consumption and shows a new trend towards eating sugar rather than drinking it, dividing consumption in approximately a 60-40 split between food and drink. Another interesting point: preschoolers (let's face it, doesn't the image of a lollipop spring to mind?) consumed the least amount of sugar of any age group in the study.

Kids in this study ate 16% of their calories in added sugars, exceeding total recommended discretionary calories for adults (SoFAS,) which makes one wonder if parents are even aware it's happening.  Added sugars are increasingly harder to detect, especially in foods that contain a combination of natural sugars and added sugars. The blog Single Man's Kitchen created a Facebook page to list all the possible ways added sugars can sneak onto an ingredients list - now at 140 ingredients and counting.

Food manufacturers use sugar in all kinds of products, not just sweet ones. Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water from its surrounding environment, and is sometimes added to increase moisture. Sugar can act as a preservative, and it is inexpensive and readily available. What's more, human beings are programmed to seek out sweet flavors from birth, so we are naturally inclined to choose sweeter products. It's no wonder that so many processed foods, even those we think of as "healthy," contain added sugars.

What can we do? Well, read labels carefully, for one thing. Lobby for a nutritional label that lists added sugar separately from naturally-occurring sugar. Look out for sugar where you might not expect it: condiments, baked goods, prepared cereals both hot and cold, sweetened dried fruit, granola bars, and many reduced-fat products can contain surprising amounts of sugar.

Most importantly, make your added sugar a conscious choice - by avoiding foods with hidden sugar, you can choose to enjoy sugar in foods that you love.

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