Sugar, by any other name..

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” (William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet)

To paraphrase Shakespeare: What we call sugar, under any other catchy, healthy-sounding name, is still added sugar.

A friend asked me to give her my opinion about a fiber bar, and I pointed out that there were 5 separate sugar ingredients in one little bar.  They were all listed separately, so instead of ADDED SUGARS being the first ingredient, the sweeteners were spread throughout the list, identified with healthy, happy sounding names like “brown sugar syrup” or “honey”.  Food companies are allowed to do this, and it’s a great incentive for them to use lots of different sugar sweeteners, because they can all be listed separately.  The consumer never gets the full impact of TOTAL ADDED SUGARS.  Unless of course you read the whole ingredient’s list and note each separate sugar.  Names like:

  • sugar
  • cane sugar
  • brown sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • cane syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • agave syrup
  • maple syrup
  • maple sugar
  • brown rice syrup
  • corn syrup
  • sorghum
  • “natural” anything, like sugar, fructose, glucose or any other sweetener.

IT’S ALL ADDED SUGAR.  It’s all calories.

Unfortunately, there’s another problem with sugar information on food labels: the amount of added sugar is not listed separately from “sugars”.  So naturally occurring sugars get lumped together with any added sugars.   Milk and 100% fruit juice look like sugary foods, because of the natural sugar content of these foods.  You might look at the labels and conclude that milk isn’t any better than a candy bar, because it contains sugar.  But of course the sugar in milk, lactose*, is naturally present.  Milk has plenty of other important nutrients.  Candy bars are all about added sugar and no nutrients.

Speaking of which: did you know the FDA has something called “The Jelly Bean Rule”?  No, it doesn’t mean stores have to sell jelly beans at Easter time.  It’s actually quite useful; it means manufacturers of junk food can’t tart them up with a few added vitamins so the product looks “healthy”.  Recently, a candy company added calcium to caramel cream chocolates, and printed “fortified with calcium” on the label.  The FDA told the company to remove that claim because “the FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as candy.”  Why don’t we have a similar rule for candy bars masquerading as healthy, with fiber and vitamins?  How about sugared cereals?  Until then, it’s up to you, the consumer, to count up all the sugar ingredients in the list before making your purchasing decision.

*Interestingly, lactose is made of glucose plus galactose.  Milk is not a source of fructose.

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