Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Table of Promise Retrospective: Big Sugar

I have written alot about sugar. But perhaps you haven't read this post. I might have done more research for this post than any other. Please also check out all in this series: Sugar vs HFCS, Sugar and School Lunch, Sugar Addiction and Honey Ice Cream

This week at The Table of Promise I will relate the findings of my recent Internet digging surrounding sugar. There is a lot more to the story of sugar and sucrose/ fructose as it relates to our diet and health than you might think.

For me it all started as a simple question, "There is a sugar lobby in Washington?" Yes, in fact there is. There are a group of lobbyists in Washington DC whose job it is to promote sugar and it's use, both to the general public and to lawmakers. Meet the key players to US Sugar Policy: The Sugar Association: they are who we know as the Sugar Lobby. The Sugar Association was formed by growers and refiners in the US sugar industry. They began in 1934 under the name of The Sugar Research Foundation, dedicated to the scientific study of sugar's role in food and the communication of that role to the public. In 1947, the foundation changed their name it's current name. On their website, they state "The Sugar Association continues with its mission of educating health professionals, media, government officials and the public about sugar's goodness."

Florida Sugar Growers (among other states): Florida contributes the largest amount of domestic sugar to the US sugar supply each year. Cane grown in Florida account for 24% of all the refined sugar in the US. The single company US Sugar alone contributes 10% of the domestic supply. Sugar Cane and sugar beets grown in cooler northern climes each account for about 50% of the domestic US sugar supply. Many of the cane and beet farms are connected as different branches of the same conglomerate company. But the Florida contribution to the total is more significant that any other.

The World Health Organization (WHO): This international organization conducts research and make statements to the international community on health issues as wide ranging as diet to childbirth. Their current statement on sugar, as made in 2003, is that sugar should not exceed more than 10% of a person's total caloric intake.

The USDA and the USDA Food Pyramid: The USDA and their food pyramid have been taking a lot of heat in recent years for the new and relatively unpublicized discovery that suggesting that we root our diet in grain products actually worked against it's intention to guide the country into better health. Rates of obesity and diabetes have soared in the last 30 years creating the greatest health crisis in modern history. For the first time in US history, our children's generation has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The USDA has revamped the food pyramid to suggest that we eat more fruits and veggies than anything else, 5cups of veg versus 3 cups of grains. But the way the pyramid is designed breaks up fruits and veggies into their own categories. This makes it look like grains are still the most important, or at the base of the pyramid. This is a great creative way to not have to come out and say "we screwed up, you really should make plant based food the most important part of your diet". I don't have many issues with what is in the pyramid, but at least come clean to the American Public. The public has proven over the last 30-40 to be listening to what the government says about nutrition.

Now that we know the players we can look at their interaction. In 2003, the WHO published it's latest report regarding diet. They stated that sugar should make up no more than 10% of a person's total daily calories. The Sugar Association fought back hard stating that they had evidence that said that a person's daily intake of sugar could safely be 25% of a person's calories. WHO subsequently reworded their recommendation on sugar stating that no one should eat sugar more than four times a day. But of course they don't say how much you can eat in any of those times, so draw your own conclusions. The head of the expert team that wrote the Association's scientific evidence saying that sugar could comprise 25% of your calorie intake per day and still be safe, is Harvey Fineberg. Amongst all the highly publicized fighting, Fineberg called the US Health Secretary at the time, Tommy Thompson, to say that his report was being misinterpreted by the Sugar Association. Even he did not want to be associated with the fallout.

The Sugar Association was so outraged by the WHO's report that they contacted our legislature to suggest a law that all future WHO funding should be predicated on an agreement from WHO to base it's reports on science. (Huh? Really?)

The Sugar Association has also successfully fought to eliminate the USDA's ability to mention sugar in it's dietary suggestions. If you click on the link to the new food pyramid I provided you will see that the top part of the pyramid that was up there for years, the "use added fats, oils and sweets sparingly" is now missing. Their recommendations regard only food. This has a couple of effects. It eliminates the sugar dialogue from the consumers mindset, and it levels the playing field among food products. If it is good to eat 6 servings of grains per week, the USDA has made no recommendation that you should limit breads that have added HFCS (Hi Fructose Corn Syrup). And furthermore I bet that a packet of instant flavored oatmeal with 16g of sugar added to the flavoring counts as a serving of whole grain.

The fact is that the government is hush hush about even discussing the issue of sugar. Thousands of products have added sugar. They lurk in the obvious places like cookies and soda. But they also are in less obvious places like breads and yogurts, flavored milk (I kinda think milk tastes pretty good the way God gave it to us), pre-made pizza crusts, rolls and hamburger buns, ketchup, dried fruit, juices marketed as real fruit juice, the list goes on an on.

The average consumption of added sugars has reached record highs! In 1996 each American consumed a record average of 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners!! That is about two fifths of a pound PER DAY. By contrast, total meat consumption in 1996 was 192 pounds. That includes all red meat, poultry and fish. Food for thought.

Virata, Gillian. The Effects of the U.S. Sugar Policy. 9 June, 2010.
Bosley, Sarah. Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO. The Guardian. 21 April, 2003.
Big Sugar. The Washington Post. 16 April, 2005.
US Agriculture--Linking Consumers and Producers. United States Department of Agriculture. 9 June 2010.
An Overview of Florida Sugarcane. University of Florida IFAS Extension. 11 June 2010.

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