CDC data busts huge nutritional myth

May 28, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Sugar. We eat too much of it and exercise too little to burn off those "empty calories." It seems like the nutrition "know-it-alls" have pointed fingers and attempted to legislate bans or taxes against foods that contain sugar.

For many years these nutrition activists, academics, and some public health policy have preached that soda and other sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in our diet. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said loudly and firmly, "You are wrong on the facts and wrong on the science." CDC's pronouncement did not change a thing.

In fact, according to CDC, most of the added sugar in the American diet comes not from beverages, but from food. In its latest survey, the agency reported that soda and sugary drinks make up on average only a third of the calories from added sugars that Americans consume in a typical day, not nearly the greatest source of sugar in our diets. Nearly 70 percent of the calories from added sugars that Americans eat on a daily basis come from processed foods like breads, jams, cakes, and ice cream. Added sugars are also in things like tomato sauce, condiments, salad dressings, multigrain crackers, and cereals.

This new data confirms information presented to the US Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services Department by the National Cancer Institute in 2010, which was ignored because it ws not "nutritionally correct."

Americans like sweets and taking sugars out of foods can be tough if the product is going to remain acceptable to consumers. Have you ever had a glass of straight cranberry juice? It is very sour, just about unpalatable for most folk. That is why companies add sugar to tap down the tartness.

Will this new CDC information change anything at all? I think not. The nutrition activists are too invested in their own theories of what is "good" and what is "bad" and what government should allow us to eat and what it should not. Demonizing a food or an ingredient is fun and easy. Taxing or banning products is far "sexier" than finding meaningful ways to provide consumers with information that they need to make the right choices for their families and themselves.

The moral of the story is that when you hear the nutritional demagogues telling you to not eat something, change the channel or hit the delete button. Most responsible nutritionists still argue that if you get a bit more exercise, all foods, in moderation, can fit into a healthful diet.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published May 28, 2013 10:00:56 AM.