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Shocking: Sugar Content of Common Food Products

by | Mar 24, 2010
Sugar

Photo by Uwe Hermann

Refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup are considered by many experts to be the biggest contributors to obesity and poor health in Western civilization.

In her book What To Eat, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU and blogger at Food Politics suggests that any food that contains more than 15 grams of sugar per serving is closer to dessert than anything else. Though this number is arbitrary, it is a good benchmark for evaluating food products.

Obviously sugar content is not the only factor in a food’s nutritional value (and not all of these have added sugar), but it can be illuminating to see the relative amounts in the foods we consume.

Just for fun I looked up the sugar content of a few common foods and menu items. I hope you’re as horrified as I am.

Listed values are as close to a normal serving as I could approximate. Units are listed as grams of sugar.

Sugar Content of Common Food Products

1. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut …………………………………………………10 g

2. Luna Bar berry almond ……………………………………………………………………………11 g

3. Froot Loops breakfast cereal 3/4 cup ……………………………………………………12 g

4. Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream ………………………………………………………………..16 g

5. Starbucks caffè latte grande 16 oz ………………………………………………………..17 g

6. Godiva 2 truffles ……………………………………………………………………………………….17 g

7. Subway 6″ sweet onion teriyaki chicken sandwich ……………………………….17 g

8. Ms. Field’s chocolate chip cookie …………………………………………………………….19 g

9. Tropicana 100% orange juice 8 oz …………………………………………………………25 g

10. Yoplait original yogurt ……………………………………………………………………………27 g

11. Craisins dried cranberries 1/3 cup ……………………………………………………….29 g

12. Vitamin Water 20 oz bottle ………………………………………………………………….33 g

13. Oscar Mayer Lunchables crackers, turkey & American cheese ………….36 g

14. Coca-Cola Classic 12 oz can …………………………………………………………………39 g

15. Sprinkles Cupcake red velvet ……………………………………………………………….45 g

16. California Pizza Kitchen Thai chicken salad ………………………………………….45 g

17. Jamba Juice blackberry bliss 16 oz ……………………………………………………….49 g

18. Odwalla SuperFood 450 ml bottle ………………………………………………………..50 g

19. Starbucks caffe vanilla frappuccino grande 16 oz ………………………………58 g

Take home messages:

  • Foods we recognize as dessert (e.g. doughnuts, ice cream, cookies) often have far less sugar than things we consider “healthy” (e.g. juice, yogurt, dried fruit).
  • Froot Loops aren’t necessarily better than doughnuts.
  • Energy bars are glorified candy.
  • Dessert is sometimes hidden in things like sandwiches.
  • Some foods marketed to children aren’t much better than soda.
  • A salad can have as much sugar as one of the biggest cupcakes I’ve ever seen.
  • “Natural” foods can have lots of sugar.
  • The worst offenders are drinkable.
  • Starbucks is why you’re fat.

How much sugar is in your favorite foods?

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For The Love of Food

by | Dec 4, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

I had to take a little break from reading articles this week since I have a big project I’m working on in lab right now. Instead of the usual awesome links, today I want to share with you a video lecture by UCSF professor, Robert Lustig.

It is long, but absolutely worth watching.

And it is particularly important if someone you know is suffering from type 2 diabetes or other chronic disease.

Dr. Lustig argues that sugars, and specifically fructose, are a direct cause of the current obesity epidemic and more similar to alcohol (poison) than to food. His discussion of the effects of fructose on children is heartbreaking and makes his arguments particularly poignant.

It also helps answer the question I often get about why cultures that depend largely on pasta and white rice (Italian and Asian societies) aren’t as unhealthy as Americans even though we all eat “processed carbs.” The answer is that it is both the processing and the additives that cause the problem, and Dr. Lustig explains in detail the science behind it all.

I should warn you that about half way through he starts going into some serious biochemistry, but don’t let it scare you. That section is short and you don’t need to understand the details to get the take home message. Those of you with some undergrad chemistry under your belt will enjoy it, but that is by no means required. Scrub ahead if you must.

My favorite quote:

“Fructose is ethanol without the buzz.”

In other words fructose is much, much worse.

Watch this and share it with your loved ones.

P.S. Thanks to those of you who downloaded How To Get Started Eating Healthy. If you thought you should have received a copy but didn’t, you are probably signed up for the blog post emails but not the newsletter. The difference is explained here. Fill out the newsletter form to get a link to the free guide.

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High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contaminated With Mercury

by | Jan 27, 2009

I swear, it is too early for April Fool’s Day and this headline is not a joke. I wish it were.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy reports that two new U.S. studies have found detectable levels of mercury in 55 brand name foods made with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS, from three different manufacturers).

Mercury is a potent toxin that effects the brain and nervous system. It is particularly dangerous for developing children and is associated with learning disabilities and other neurological problems. Because mercury has a particularly long half-life in the human body, women of childbearing age should also avoid mercury.

What upsets me the most about this finding is that these are the kinds of products that are directly marketed toward children.

Maybe you have heard of some of these:

  • Quaker Oatmeal to Go
  • Coca-Cola Classic
  • Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
  • Minute Maid Berry Punch
  • Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
  • Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
  • Nutri‐Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
  • Pop‐Tarts Frosted Blueberry

For the complete list of contaminated products, click here.

The author of one report is careful to point out that this is “just a snap shot in time,” because they only tested one sample from each product. I hardly find this reassuring, however, since their analysis was also limited to the handful of products they selected and does not tell us about everything else on the grocery store shelves.

At this point we have no way of knowing which products contain mercury and which do not. What we do know is that all of them contain high-fructose corn syrup and are products of our industrialized food system.

I’m starting to wonder, how many outbreaks and contamination scares does it take to screw in a light bulb? That is, the idea light bulb within our federal government that asks,

“Maybe we should take steps to improve the safety and nutritional value of our nation’s food supply?”

Crazy thought, I know.

Keep in mind we are not even talking about the colossal damage these products do to our health and economy without mercury.

Are fresh, natural foods that grow from the ground such a ludicrous alternative?

Please share your thoughts, this topic always baffles me.

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Soda Tax Is A Great Start

by | Dec 19, 2008

New York Governor David Paterson recently proposed a state tax on soft drinks, defending his argument to readers on the CNN website.

After reading his proposal, I agree with him completely. I just wish Starbucks would be forced to carry some of the responsibility as well.

Taxing products known to be deleterious to public health is a proven way to reduce consumption, increase state revenue and raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk commodities (such as cigarettes). There is no reason to suspect New York wouldn’t see similar benefits in the case of soda. Junk foods and soft drinks are currently placing a tremendous burden on our society in both health care costs and lost working hours.

Moreover, high-fructose corn syrup (the primary sweetener in soda) is derived from corn crops that are heavily subsidized by the federal government. These subsidies artificially reduce prices of soda below the true cost of production. It is therefore hard to argue that the proposed tax is putting an unfair financial burden on consumers who wish to drink full-calorie beverages: currently it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the bad habits of others.

So although I still favor completely revising the farm bill, taxing consumption is a reasonable alternative.

Another thing to consider is that these products are essentially to candy what crack is to cocaine (quickly ingested poison), so they do indeed pose a unique hazard to American health and are thus an ideal target for the first junk food tax. The current proposal adds a 15% tax to non-diet sodas as well as fruit drinks that are less than 70% real juice, adding only a few cents to each individual purchase–$0.15 to the dollar.

Paterson estimates the tax will raise $404 million dollars in revenue for the state of New York, that would go toward public health programs, including obesity prevention.

Whatever happens, expect a ferocious battle from industry giants (and FOXNews). They will argue for consumer freedom and against the benefits of switching to diet soda (I agree with this one, no kind of soda is healthy), but will conveniently overlook the data linking junk food and soda to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer, as well as the costs to the American public.

The good news for the rest of us is that if New York does manage to pass this tax it is reasonable to expect California and many other states to follow suit (see trans fat and tobacco), resulting in a tremendous sea change in our nation’s policy toward junk food in general.

This is exactly the change we need.

Currently all Americans are paying for the poor nutritional culture our nation has embraced. The top 3 causes of death in the U.S. (arguably 5 of the top 7) are diet-related. It only makes sense to tackle obesity both as a nation and as individuals to protect our citizens and our economy.


Why Not Starbucks?

Unfortunately, right now it does not seem this tax will extend to the sugary cesspool which is Starbucks.

Did you know that a medium cafe mocha from Starbucks has more calories, sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat than a Krisy Kreme original glazed doughnut? Seriously, don’t go near that stuff.

It seems to me that Starbucks and other mega-chains (Jamba Juice?) selling sugar-blended drinks are just as liable as soda companies for promoting obesity with liquid candy, thus warranting the same burden of taxation.

I am not recommending traditional coffee drinks (espresso, cappuccino, etc.) be taxed–they do not contain sugar–but it is heartbreaking to see Frappuccinos being passed off as a morning pick-me-up when in fact they are no different from a milk shake with caffeine.

In short, I think this tax is a fabulous idea that finally begins to address the true costs of junk food and obesity, and I hope the trend continues.

How do you feel about sugar, taxes and Starbucks?

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