Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sugar Wars

by guest blogger Jody Perrecone

A war going on in the courtroom between competitors you may not be aware of. Both parties are trying to convince you they are right and are fiercely competing for your dollars.

This is not just a sweet disagreement between two competitors. The Western Sugar Cooperative, which represents sugar growers and processors and the Corn Refiners Association, representing high fructose corn syrup manufacturers including Archer-Daniels Midland and Cargill, are in an all-out high stakes battle. In addition, each have spent millions of dollars on lobbying lawmakers in Washington, each attempting to discredit the other.

It’s a battle between the sugar industry and the corn refiners. And the stakes are high. We unknowingly eat a lot of sugar -150 pounds of sugar per year per person according to the USDA. (Picture thirty 5# bags of sugar in your cupboard!) Impossible you say? A form of sugar is present in nearly all packaged foods as well as in foods you may not think have added sugar including ketchup, yogurt, peanut butter, salad dressing, canned vegetables, and frozen foods.

Corn refiners, the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup, invested $50 million in advertising to promote renaming their high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar.” The Western Sugar Cooperative (sugar growers) sued. In support of their position, the corn refiners countersued, stating for years the sugar industry has tried to give corn syrup a bad name and have lead consumers to believe sugar is healthier than their high fructose corn syrup. The corn refiners report as a result, their market share has gone down since the sugar association made the allegedly slanderous remarks about them. Prior to the slander lawsuit, the Corn Refiners Association made an appeal in 2008 to the Food and Drug Association to allow them to use the name “corn sugar” rather than “high fructose corn syrup” because of the alleged smear campaigns and slanderous remarks the sugar cooperative have made against the corn refiners’ HFCS. The request to rename HFCS was denied by the FDA some time after the slander lawsuit was filed.

The corn refiners have spent millions of dollars for research that concluded HFCS is not detrimental to our health. The sugar producers say their research is weak and was not conducted by an independent research group.

Let’s not be fooled here. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, and so is our health. I would guess litigation like this is not unusual within the food industry. The marketing of food products, being nothing short of confusing to the consumer, makes me wonder if this is the intent. High fructose corn syrup goes directly to our liver and raises our blood glucose levels quickly - something we all want to avoid. The HFCS that is not used is stored in our liver as fat. Sugar also raises our blood sugar quickly. Both HFCS and refined white sugar are high in calories, averaging about 50 calories per tablespoon, and have no nutritional value. Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, type II diabetes, high triglycerides, fatty liver disease, heart disease and other health ailments. Naturally occurring sugar found in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables is not the problem. These foods are not calorically dense, and contain vitamins and minerals. They also have fiber which slows down the body’s absorption rate of the sugar, preventing harmful spikes and sudden drops of sugar levels. The World Health Organization recently released new sugar guidelines recommending only about 5% of our calories come from added sugar. This would be about 6 teaspoons a day for an average 2000 calorie a day diet.

We don’t know what the outcome of this lawsuit will be. What we do know is consuming any form of processed sugar is not in our best interest. Be a smart consumer. Rather than being influenced by multimillion dollar ad campaigns trying to convince us one form of sugar is better than another, remember they don’t have our health at heart. Look at the facts when you buy. Read nutritional labels and ingredient lists on packaged goods. Divide the number of grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label on the package by four to determine how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving. So if the label shows 12 grams of sugar per serving, it is equivalent to three teaspoons of sugar. Ingredients listed ending in “ose” like sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose are all derivatives of sugar. Also the word “syrup” on the label such as brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup are sweeteners, as are evaporated cane juice and fruit juice concentrate. We eat and drink an enormous amount of hidden sugar each year. Don’t be “sugared over” with all the hype. For your health and waistline, read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list on packaged foods and avoid sweetened beverages. Keep your sugar intake to a minimum.

Jody Perrecone is a corporate manager for the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). CHIP is an international wellness program focusing on lifestyle interventions to create a healthier workforce and reduce overall healthcare costs. Jody works with hospitals, corporations, and communities to offer CHIP programs throughout the U.S.

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