The recent FDA News Release is a bit of a mixed blessing in my mind. I am a big believer in educating yourself about foods, health, fitness, etc so that you are making smart choices regarding your health. At the same time, I think people sometimes get confused with too much information, and end up making drastic decisions which are not smart. I have already seen people freak out about sugar in an unhealthy way. I fear the new label regarding a “Daily Value” for sugar may have the potential to at least confuse people, and at worse, cause some to start eliminating foods.
The proposed goal is for us to limit added sugar to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories, according to the guidelines. For someone older than 3, that means eating no more than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams, of sugar a day (this is based on an average intake of 2000 calories……from age 3 and above, we all eat an average of 2000 calories a day…..supposedly). You can see where I am going with this. I am not a huge fan of math. Definitely not a fan of using it on a daily basis, for instance to figure out how to calculate my daily allowable added sugar. What is going to happen to those teenagers, especially athletes (who, by the way, need much more than 2000 calories a day)? I can tell you from my experience that many teens and even children start eliminating foods when they have been educated in an inappropriate way about nutrition by well-meaning schools and other adults. The story goes like this: child learns about healthy eating in school, he learns which foods are bad (“red” foods in some programs) and so stops eating them. As a result, weight loss occurs, growth stops, moods change, the brain is no longer fueled appropriately, digestive systems are disrupted, it is a mess. Sometimes, an eating disorder results and therapy is needed.
So now we are increasing our focus on sugar by setting a blanket daily limit that really should not be “one size fits all”. Individual foods will have the sugar content but also a “percent daily value”. For instance, the example given on the FDA website is “a consumer who drinks a 20-ounce sugared beverage may be surprised to know it contains about 66 grams of added sugar, which would be listed on the label as 132 percent of the Daily Value”. That means that in one drink that person will have consumed 32 percent more sugar than they should have that day. What affect will that have on eating behavior? Will this trigger some people to feel they need to read every label and stop eating anything with any added sugar the rest of the day because they had that soda? This stresses me out just thinking about it.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not a fan of soda or sweetened drinks and also believe in healthy eating. But I believe in educating people about nutrition in a way that makes it doable (which rarely involves much math). The funny thing is I have often used empty soda bottles and other empty sugary drink containers, measured the sugar in them and used for a visual display to help people see what they are consuming. This is always accompanied by more information such as as the message of moderation and having a soda when you want one, but that filling up on 5 cans a day does not leave much room for healthy stuff. You will not feel good. The difference is the focus on health and NOT on restriction or the idea that anything is forbidden.
The bottom line: use the new information to learn about the foods you consume on a regular basis. Being knowledgeable is a good thing. But don’t feel you need to eat exactly the correct grams of sugar or the perfect “daily value” every single day. Instead, stay on the path of caring about your health and doing those things that make you feel your best. Don’t focus too much on the math. Don’t let any food, even sugar, stress you out.
For more stories: Sugar Story