Tomato sauce can also be made sugar-free. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
The next time you pick up a jar or can of tomato sauce at the grocery store, have a look at the ingredients. Almost always, you’ll find sugar listed on the label.
Which is sort of ridiculous. Why does tomato sauce need sugar? It’s used on spaghetti, lasagna and other savory foods.
But what’s this? Check out the nutrition facts label on the box of pasta. Sugar again! It’s even in single-serving cup-of-soup packages.
“Some of the top stealth sources of fructose are energy drinks, fruit yogurts, agave syrup and many foods labeled ‘low fat,'” said University of Colorado physician Richard J. Johnson, whose books “The Sugar Fix” and “The Fat Switch” discuss the problem in detail.
Sugar might be costumed as evaporated cane juice, table sugar, honey, fruit juice, powdered sugar, agave, crystalline fructose, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup. It’s still sugar, and what is it doing in bacon? Or mayonnaise? Or ketchup?
That’s what blogger and author Eve O. Schaub wanted to know. Her epiphany began after she watched ” Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” That’s pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig’s documentary on his theory that fructose is more poison than sweetener, and that sugar is more fattening than fat.
These shortbread cookies, two with chocolate, are made without sugar. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
“I was deeply alarmed,” Schaub said in a telephone interview from her home in Vermont.
“It made me think a lot about our palates, and the obesification of America. One hundred years ago, we didn’t have obesity or metabolic syndrome. What have we done that’s created those things?
“We had these studies in the 1960s and ’70s that said fat was bad. So we removed fat from everything. But then how do you make it taste good? Let’s put sugar in it. And it turns out that may have been the exact wrong thing to do.”
She began looking more closely at labels when she shopped for groceries. “There was sugar, in all its myriad guises,” Schaub writes in “Year of No Sugar,”the memoir inspired by Lustig’s video. Of course sugar is in sweet products, like cookies, cakes, candy and ice cream.
Fresh-baked sugarless bread is delicious. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
But it’s also in peanut butter, sandwich bread, wine, milk, orange juice and dozens of other products that wouldn’t seem to need added sugar. Special K, promoted as a diet-friendly cereal, has three teaspoons of added sugar per 100 grams. Schaub found sugar in canned black beans and in a commercial Thai yellow curry sauce.
Those counterintuitive sugar-added products explain why a 2010 Robert Woods Johnson-funded study found that 33 percent of an American child’s diet consists of added sugar and solid fat.
“As a culture, are we normalizing this much sugar in what we eat?” Schaub said. “I don’t want to encourage anyone not to eat, but our consumption of sugar and fructose had quadrupled from what Americans were eating 100 years ago, and the number of obese Americans has septupled since then. All these issues are related. Fructose is the elephant in the room.”
Schaub, with Lustig, author David Gillespie, Michelle Obama, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others, supports the proposed FDA nutrition-label modifications that specify the amount of added sugar and represent realistic serving sizes.
Dannon is among the companies getting ahead of the curve. It recently announced that by 2016, it will reduce sugar in yogurt products for children.
Some no-added-sugar advocates compare their campaign to the effort to print warning labels on cigarette packages.
“I think there are a lot of parallels between added sugar and tobacco,” Schaub said.
“Cigarettes do bad things to you, but the real harm is over a long period of time. It’s easy for people to dispute the harm. Fructose is the same way. The damage it does is over such a long period of time. It’s not as if a piano falls on your head and you die. It’s gradual and cumulative.”