What food do Americans love and nutrition activists hate?

January 10, 2013

Jeff Nedelman

The answer is sugar, and both sides could be of more help to consumers if they decreased the rhetorical flourishes and increased information and education efforts.

According to the American Heart Association, we Americans eat, on average, 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. It's just not the white cubes. People are surprised to learn that sugars are in milk, soda, bread, cereal, granola bars, spaghetti sauce, and sandwich meats and fruit juices, to name just a few products. By the way, have you ever tried tasting straight cranberry juice? It is amazingly tart and unpalatable, thus unsellable, to most consumers. Therefore, juice companies add sugar to their juice. The sugar could be apple juice, which is cheap and contains very few nutrients, or it could be "pure, all natural evaporated cane sugar," whatever that means. FDA is out of the picture on this one.

Moreover, whether the calories are from natural honey from wild bees, brown sugar, cane juice, or high-fructose corn syrup, the calories are metabolized by the body the same way. And the number one source of calories in the diet is grain-based desserts.

Finally, no matter how they try, activists who want to demonize sugar cannot change the basic law of thermodynamics: If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. As a society, we consume far more calories than we burn through work or exercise, and calories from sugar provide no nutrition.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, a highly regarded, nutrition, culinary and diabetes expert whose latest book is "Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week," says:

"It's practically useless for my patients with diabetes to use the sugar line of the Nutrition Facts panel to help them make decisions about food. I ask all my patients with diabetes to look at Total Carbohydrates and completely ignore sugars. For example, take a cup of skim milk. It has 12 grams or Total Carbohydrates. All 12 grams are sugar. Compare that to brown rice. One cup has 0 grams of sugar. Someone might think that a cup of brown rice would raise blood glucose less than a cup of milk if they compared 12 grams of sugar in milk to 0 grams of sugar in brown rice. But they would be wrong, because one cup of brown rice has about 45 grams of Total Carbohydrates. None of them is sugar, but 45 grams of carbs will raise blood glucose a lot more than 12 grams of carbs. It's important for my patients with diabetes to understand that the amount of carbohydrate has a more significant effect on blood glucose than the source of carbohydrate."

For a pragmatic, down-to-earth approach, try to minimize the calories we all consume, including all the different kinds of sugars.

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 Jan 10, 2013 10:00:25 AM.