This is a guest blog post by Richard Perlmutter, MS
It has been on my mind to write a rebuttal to the charge that ‘added sugars’ consumption from food is a major cause of America’s obesity epidemic. I wish to thank Fooducate for the opportunity to publish this opinion piece, which is contrary to most commentary on the subject.
Sugars in food come two ways–natural sugars and added sugars.
Natural sugars are the sugars in milk, most fruit, and some vegetables. Added sugars, usually sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup, are commonly used ingredients in processed foods and beverages. They are found mostly in carbonated beverages, other sweetened beverages, baked goods, dairy desserts, and candy.
Added sugars contribute a number of desirable characteristics. Among them; they confer sweetness, mouth feel, texture, and act as preservatives. They do all of these at relatively low cost.
However they only contribute carbohydrate and calories to the diet. They lack protein, vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutrients. These are reasons why it is advisable to not have too much.
SUGARS CONSUMPTION–THEN AND NOW
According to federal government surveys, in the late 1970’s Americans consumed about 59 grams of added sugars, per person per day. Of this amount, 17.5 grams was in sugar-sweetened beverages. This survey was conducted before the start of the obesity epidemic which began around 1980.
(Please realize that amounts that are cited in this article are estimates.)
In the period 2005-2006, a similar survey found that Americans were consuming about 84 grams of added sugars a day. Of this 84 grams, 41.5 was in sugar-sweetened beverages.
In the approximately thirty years between the two surveys, added sugars from all sources increased by about 25 grams per day-from 59 to 84 grams. Added sugars intake from sweetened beverages increased by about 24 grams per day- from 17.5 to 41.5 grams. Through the entire thirty years, consumption of added sugars from all food sources increased by only one gram.
Beginning about 1980, the prevalence of obesity began increasing. It has increased from about fifteen percent of the adult population to about thirty-two percent of the adult population.
The results from the surveys implicate sugar- sweetened beverages as a probable cause of increasing obesity. They absolve food from the same charge. Added sugars from all food stayed almost constant during the years that obesity was increasing. Only for beverages has there been a significant increase.
A similar comparison of late 1970’s data and data from a 1995-1996 government survey reinforces these observations. About eighty percent of the total increase in added sugars consumption as documented by these surveys was in sugar- sweetened beverages.
Many researchers have studied the relationship between weight gain and sugar-sweetened beverage intake. Most have found that those who drink more of these beverages tend to weigh more than those who drink less.
DIFFERENCES IN SATIETY
Differences in satiety may explain why beverages, but not food, stimulate sugars intake and weight gain. Satiety describes the sensation of being satisfied after having food and/or beverage. One consumes less food when it has a high satiety, compared to consuming a lower satiety food.
Some researchers who study what characteristics affect satiety believe that nutrients in the form of solid food have greater satiety than nutrients consumed as liquid.
An interesting experiment compared sugars as food and as beverage. Test subjects consumed an equal amount of sugars, either as jelly beans or as sugar-sweetened beverage. Those eating jelly beans consumed fewer calories overall (from the jelly beans and from all the other food and beverage in their diet) compared to those consuming sugar-sweetened beverage.
In another study based on diet surveys, it was discovered that those who regularly eat more candy weigh less than those who eat less candy. The results suggest that sugary food is not inherently fattening.
The conclusion, based on all that has been presented, is that added sugars in beverages may be a cause for obesity, but added sugars in food are not a cause for obesity.
Public health officials don’t seem to be aware of the difference. They are implicating sugars from both food and beverage as causes of the obesity epidemic. The federal Food and Drug Administration is even considering adding a line for added sugars in the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods and beverages to highlight their presence.
By targeting added sugars from all sources, public health officials are (A) unfairly criticizing many very large segments of the food industry, and (B) recommending that individuals cut back on foods that most likely have little or no effect on their weight.
(References to this article are available on request from the author.)
Richard Perlmutter is the owner of Abington Nutrition Services LLC which prepares nutrition labeling for products manufactured by food and beverage companies. He also takes an interest in seeing that government nutrition policy is in line with nutritional science.