A decade ago, a nearly 90 min long YouTube video by a California endocrinologist changed the way millions of people view the role of sugar in their diets. Its unlikely star, Robert Lustig, used his time in “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” to outline evidence for his contention that overconsumption of added sugars leads to chronic metabolic diseases.
Food and drinks loaded with added sugars are cheap, tasty, and everywhere. Yet evidence suggests that a diet that gets
a large percentage of calories from added sugars is associated with metabolic disorders that lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In the US, public health advocates have struggled to enact policies targeting sugar-sweetened products. They will get a hand from a new Nutrition Facts label rolling out next year that displays the amount of added sugars on food packages and is intended to help consumers limit added sugars to 10% of total calories. In anticipation of the label, C&EN explores some of the sweet molecules that ingredient firms are offering to food industry customers newly motivated to cut sugar levels.
The idea that, beyond their ability to inflate the calories of food, added sugars are uniquely bad for us is still controversial, but the circumstantial evidence is strong. Research shows that the consumption of added sugars is associated with the development of metabolic syndrome, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Public health groups have taken up the cause and pushed for laws and rules they believe will reduce the ready availability of food high in added sugars. Sugar-sweetened sodas were first in the crosshairs. Fourteen countries around the world now tax the drinks.
In the US, taxes on sugary drinks can be found in only a handful of cities and counties. But a new national food-labeling policy will, for the first time, call out the amount of sugar added to packaged food and drinks. It will shine a harsh spotlight on the common food industry practice of adding sugar to almost everything on grocery store shelves.
Shoppers will soon see changes in the ingredients of the food and drinks they buy. To avoid cringe-worthy labels, food companies are trying to lower sugar levels without using the synthetic sweeteners that consumers have come to distrust. They are turning to a new arsenal of label-friendly sweeteners from ingredient suppliers using industrial biotechnology. Instead of the usual sugars, syrups, and aspartame, many of tomorrow’s labels will boast stevia molecules, the sugar alcohol erythritol, and a new low-calorie sugar called allulose.
Many beverages are already carrying the new Nutrition Facts label, which will be mandatory on all packaged food starting Jan. 1, 2020. The US Food and Drug Administration will require the label to declare the amount of added sugars in grams and show a percent daily value for added sugar per serving. The rule also requires updating serving sizes “to reflect what people actually eat and drink today.”
Some products carrying the new label are sporting eye-popping figures. A 20 oz bottle of Coca-Cola (about 591 mL) is now deemed to hold one serving, rather than two. That serving contains 65 g of added sugars, or 130% of a day’s dose of added sugars. The FDA-recommended daily limit is 10% of calories, or 50 g of sugar for an adult male on a 2,000-calorie diet….
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