The Big Sugar-Coated Deception
- Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.1
- A tribe in Alaska has as many as 70 words for ice.2
- Americans have 57 different words for sugar.3
These facts really shouldn’t be surprising. Ice and snow are major factors in the lives of Eskimos and Alaskans. And, sadly, with the large number of Americans who are currently overweight or obese, it’s clear that sugar is a major factor in our lives.
However, there is one big difference between “snow and ice” languages and “sugar” language. Eskimos and Alaskans need all of those words in their everyday language to discuss topics like weather and safety. The rest of us do not need 57 different words for the sweet stuff. In fact, we probably only use three or four on a regular basis. So why are there so many? Because the food industry is trying to deceive you.
Ever since my son was born, I have checked nutrition labels. Truthfully, I usually only looked at the first three ingredients. Knowing that ingredients are listed from most to least, I figured that glancing at the first three told me the main ingredients in each food.4 If sugar was listed in the first three ingredients, I didn’t buy the product. It simply wasn’t worth the sugar spike (hyperactivity) and crash (tearful temper tantrum) that always resulted. Consequently, I thought that I was well aware of how much sugar my son was eating. Then my daughter was born, and everything changed.
My little girl has suffered from a very young age with explosive diarrhea and horrible stomach pains. After seeing several doctors, she was 3-years-old when she was finally diagnosed with Genetic Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (GSID),5 a disease that renders the person unable to digest sugar. It is sort of similar to being lactose intolerant, but the symptoms and misery feel like they are about a thousand times worse.
Suddenly, not only could sugar not be in the top three ingredients on a label, it couldn’t be on the label at all. I assumed that raising a child without sugar would be a challenge, but I naively thought that I would be able to rely on nutrition labels and just look for the word “sugar.” I was wrong.
Food manufacturers know that listing “sugar” as one of the first ingredients makes many consumers less likely to buy their products. I was shocked to learn that to make products appear healthier, they cleverly list each type of sugar separately. For example, one “healthy” granola bar lists all of the following: sugar, brown sugar, malted barley extract, corn syrup, invert sugar, sorbitol, fructose, corn syrup solids, and molasses.
Clearly “sugar” is one of the main ingredients of this granola bar. However, by listing each sugar separately, granola, whole grain rolled wheat, and soybean oil become the three main ingredients, making this sugar bomb appear to be a healthy snack.6
For the sake of my daughter, I had to learn all 57 words for sugar. A few she can eat without symptoms, but there are many others, the ones that contain sucrose, that make her very sick. Though you can look up the entire list online, here are a few tricks to help you recognize disguised sugar. By remembering these three things, you can quickly spot most of the sugars hidden in the fine print of your nutrition labels.
- Any ingredient that includes the words “sugar,” “malt,” or “syrup” is a sugar; for example, beet sugar, barley malt, or carob syrup.7
- Any ingredient that ends in “ose” is a sugar; for example, fructose, glucose, or dextrose.8
- Any ingredient that ends in “ol” should be considered a sugar; for example, sorbitol, erythritol, or xylitol.9
So, if someone in your family has GSID, sometimes referred to as sucrose intolerance, or if you simply want to feed your family more nutritiously, don’t count on food industry labels to make it easy for you. Get out your reading glasses and refuse to be deceived.
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