Not all sweets were made equal, as new food labels explain

Both cookies and apples are sweet, but are their sugars the same? Experts help JPost explore understanding nutrition better.

August 22, 2019 14:32
4 minute read.

Pastries 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It’s no secret that American waistlines of both adults and youth are expanding and this seriously affects public health. 

On a private level, a few extra pounds might be bring shame and guilt feelings. Yet, overweight people at times suffer public humiliations such as being asked to pay more to fly or, as happened to film director Kevin Smith, being asked to change seats. 

The problem of weight gain is wide-spread in all wealthy countries, from the US to Japan, and including Israel.   

Why are Americans, and others, getting so much bigger?  Many factors contribute to this trend. Some point to the sedentary life-style of many people, from the popularity of children's and teen's indoor video-games versus running around playing sports or going to the playground and to the ever-increasing portion sizes served in restaurants. One crucial factor is that consumers don’t know  enough about the food they eat and its effects.

Unless tainted or poisoned, nearly all natural foods, if consumed in moderation, are good for humans. Yet all foods are not equal. If fruits and cookies are both sweet, is sugar by any other name just as sweet? Do all sugars behave the same in our body chemistry? Does it matter in what form we eat it?

In terms of chemistry, sugar is indeed sugar, but humans do not live in a lab. The sugar in fruit is “tied” to other elements in the fruit such as water, fiber and nutrients. Often, the nutrients are responsible for the color of various fruits.

Healthy humans need water and fiber is what keeps the cells of the fruit tight and contributes to our feeling of satiety, not to mention healthy bowel movements. The actions of chewing and swallowing are also related to our subjective feeling of being “full.” It’s easier to eat a small packet of chocolates than three large apples. The first enables us to consume a lot of calories quickly and keep on eating and the second, not so much. Eating and swallowing natural fruits instead of chocolates also slows the intake of sweets into the body.

A calorie is an energy unit measuring heat. Humans eat food, not calories, calories simply measure how much “heat” an average human body could produce from this food. Some foods, like butter, are high in potential energy while others, like carrots, are low. Individual people use that potential energy differently as well, leading some to argue that calories alone are not the whole picture.

Professor Roberta Andings explains in her course, Nutrition Made Clear (the Great Courses series), that the less processed the food you eat is, the better off you are. “As I explain it to teenagers, the less hands touching your food the better,” she said. 

Using the example of fruit, she explained that it was picked by a person and maybe placed on the shelf by a person. However processed foods, from pizza to a candy bar, must pass many human (and mechanical) hands until they reach our mouths.

Sugar exists naturally in some foods, such as milk, but food producers often add it to various other foods. It may be an ingredient in foods that are often perceived as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ such as granola bars, protein shakes, and whole-wheat cereals. It is these extra sugars, hidden from the human eye, that are responsible for an extra 300 calories being eaten by the average American every day, Life reported.

Gaining weight is not mysterious. Unless for medical reasons, humans get fat by eating foods with more potential energy than what he or she exerts in energy output.

New FDA food labels are scheduled to go into effect by January 1, 2020 and added sugars will be clearly printed. The label will also identify serving sizes, since people commonly misjudge just how much they eat. In the past, when people would eat in controlled settings such as family meals and food was more scarce, portions were smaller and people would spread less butter on their toast. Today, people tend to eat while on the move, portions offered are much larger, and food is both more available and less costly, making it easier to heap on cream cheese or butter to the bagel. The new labels will include larger print in the sections about recommended number of servings.  .

Director of Mount Sinai PhysioLab Avigdor Sinai said that the fibers in fruit also contribute to maintaining even sugar levels since they slow sugar absorption into the body more than eating a non-fibrous Mars bar or spoon of honey.
In terms of portions, not only is it harder to over-eat fruit compared to candy due to its volume, it is almost impossible for healthy physically active humans to eat so much fruit that they can do themselves harm.

However, the benefits of fruit are reduced when the fiber is removed. Orange juice and carrot juice, even freshly made, give the exact spike in blood-sugar levels which so concern health experts.

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