The science behind added sugars has become just about everything but a “sweet” conversation among nutrition scientists. In the middle of this heated debate sets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is likely to mandate labeling of added sugars on the newly proposed food label. While many might see this a commonsense move to help fight the obesity epidemic, several authoritative scientists and organizations have sided with food companies.
The debate reminds me of the premature negative public messages about eggs in the 1990’s. A decade later eggs became “incredible and edible” when human studies revealed no harm in the majority of human studies. Eggs are a perfect example of how the scientific community acted too quickly and confused consumers. We prematurely presumed eggs were bad and then a few years later… oops we got it wrong! Added sugars may follow a very similar pattern.
One thing is certain. The proposed labeling of added sugars on the food label came from the Obama Administration and not the FDA staff who recently waited a decade for human research to clearly link trans-fat consumption to an increased risk of heart disease, before mandating its removal from foods.
A recent study funded by the World Health Organization (WHO) compiled all of the human studies to date and found, as most would suspect, that adding sugar to an individual’s diet (i.e. increasing calorie intake) caused weight gain over time. Now here is the catch. The study also found that when the added sugars already present in an individual’s diet were swapped out for other carbohydrates with the same calorie content (e.g. starch), no weight gain occurred over time. This suggests that weight gain might be more dependent on total calorie intake versus the type of carbohydrate. All carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.
What are the repercussions of mandating added sugars on the food label? It might discourage consumers from focusing on more important information such as total calories and the amount of saturated fat. Products like yogurt that contain a many vital nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D that promote bone health, may be avoided by consumers trying to be more health conscious.
You can bet, food companies and nutrition scientists will continue to debate the science on added sugars and health. I am egger to see what the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and updated MyPlate will have to say!