Sugar By Any Other Name
Big food companies are always trying to take advantage of the latest nutrition buzz. But do their products deliver when it comes to the nuances of good nutrition?
This question occurred to us after hearing about a lawsuit filed against several food-company giants – including Kraft Foods, General Mills and Kellogg’s. Citing her experiences shopping for her daughter, a California woman alleges that manufacturers of many new products – especially cereals – that trumpet reduced-sugar content are trying to trick consumers.
Implying such products are lower in carbohydrates and therefore healthier, because they are lower in sugar, is fundamentally deceptive, she claims. That’s because more often than not, the companies remove the sugar only to replace it with other highly refined carbohydrates. The result – similar carb content, similar caloric content, similar nutritive value.
Ms. Jennifer Hardee of California filed the suit March 24 in San Diego, seeking class-action status and listing the reduced-sugar versions of Post’s Fruity Pebbles (Kraft), General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs and Trix, and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.
â€œConsumers wanted less sugar, so we gave them less sugar," a General Mills spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. "The product has the same nutritional benefits the previous version did.â€
She undoubtedly meant that in a positive way. But applied to General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs, it could certainly be interpreted otherwise.
Added Sugars by Any Name
Nutritional value aside, it’s clear Ms. Hardee has a point. What could General Mills possibly have on its mind when it presents the new variation of its Cocoa Puffs cereal emblazoned with a huge inscription claiming “75% Less Sugar.”
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the original product contained 13 grams of sugar and 13 grams of other carbohydrates per serving. Yes, the new version has 3 grams of sugar, but it now has 23 grams of other carbohydrates. The 26 grams of total carbs per serving is unchanged, and it’s a good guess that the “other carbohydrates” are mostly in the form of corn syrup, which leaps from seventh to second place on the package’s ingredient list.
Are there really still people who are unaware that corn syrup is only another form of added sugar? Or is the food giant praying that even shoppers who do understand will never look at the list of ingredients?
That’s a risky assumption for a food company to make nowadays. In the past decade, Americans have learned some powerful lessons in the controversies of diet – for which we at Atkins claim some measure of credit. The thunderbolts that Dr. Atkins originally threw at sugar in particular and refined carbohydrates in general as early as 1972 were reenergized once the glycemic index (GI) was developed. It became possible to predict with precision what effects a given food will have on blood sugar and insulin levels in the human body.
Even nutritionists who have not yet been converted to controlled-carb eating understand and utilize these concepts nowadays. At Atkins we’ve made the pursuit of low-GI foods a mantra. In a world where 15 percent of children are obese and the average child watches 10,000 food commercials a year, one would hope that the major food companies would do their part rather than further insult the intelligence and risk the health of their customers.
We’re hoping Jennifer Hardee’s lawsuit will prod mainstream manufacturers into improving their products, instead of focusing on promotion and packaging. If major food companies truly want to address the severe implications of the obesity and diabetes health crises this nation faces, they need to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.
By finding out where sugar is hiding, you’ll be doing yourself and your children a good deed.