Americans are eating far more sugar today than they ever have before reports from the Sugar Association to the contrary.
While the consumption of sucrose, once the most widely used form of caloric sweetener, has remained fiarly constant over the 50 years, the comsumption of other sugars such as corn syrup and dextrose has than dramatically and the 111.2 pounds of sweeteners consumed in 1980 by every man, woman and child rose to 126.4 pounds last year.
The Sugar Associations which represents the sucrose intercuts as distinct from other forms of sweeteners, makes that fine distinction among sugar sources when it issues papers and press releases saying that consumption of sugar in the United States has remained constant. The vast majority of the public does not distinguish among sugar forms and neither does the body. Most sweeteners contribute little or nothing beyond calories and tooth decay.
According to a report prepared last year by the Federation of American Societies for Experimential Biology (FASEB) for the Food and Drug Administration there is little doubt that even if sugar does no other harm, it definitely causes tooth decay "when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced."
The report says there are various factors involved in sugar's ability to cause tooth dacay. "These include frequency and duration of exposure, age of the subject and stickiness of the sugar.
A report based on studies at the Forsyth Dental Center in Boston noted that: "The risk of sugar increasing caries activity (tooth decay) is greatest if the sugar is consumed between meals and in a sticky form in which the tendency to be retained on the surface of the teeth is pronounced."
The FASEB report, part of the review of the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list of food additives, also says: "Overconsumption of sucrose probably contributes to obesity and possibly results in dietary imbalances . . ." which may make heart attacks more likely. But it says there is only circumstantial evidence linking sucrose and diabetes.
The report says that controlling the consumption of sucrose is difficult because "70 per cent of the per capita in take is now contributed by processed foods."
The same is true of other forms of sugar as well.
A tour through the shelves of the supermarket is starting for what reveals about the use of sugar in precessed foods. While all of the following items contain some sugar in one form or other the list is hardly completed.
Stove Top Stuffing Chicken Flavor, Uncle Ben's Stuff 'n' Such Chicken and Traditional Sage; Nestle Soup Time Pea and Tomato Lipton's Cup a Soup Green Pea and Onion; Skippy. Jiff, Peter Pan and Planter's Peanut Butters; Stouffer's French Bread Pizzas, La Choy Soy Sauce; Banquet Gravy with Sliced Beef TV Dinner, Frito-Lay Jalapeno Bean Dip Mix Ritz Crackers; Adolph Meat Tenderizer (all flavors); Spice Island Pizza Seasoning; Hamburger Helper (all varieties); Calavo Avocade Dip; Green Giant Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Potatoes au Gratin; Stouffer's Escalloped Chicken and Noodle and Chicken Pie; Marved Turkey Loaf; Jones Minute Breakfast Links and Bacon; Shake 'n' Bake (barbecue and fish flavors); Birdseye Brockcoli with Cheese Sauce; Birdeye Broccoli with Cheese Saucer; Bacos Imitation Bacon; bouillon cubes made by MBT, Wyler's Herb-Ox and Steero, Stouffer's Spinach Souffle.
Almost all mayonnaise products contain sugar, virtually no salad dressing or spaghetti sauce is without it.
In some of these foods there is more than one form of sweetener, usually a combination of sucrose and cron syrup.
It is even more startling to find that sugar is either the first or second ingredient in certain products: In McCormick's Butter Flavored Salt, corn syrup solids are the second ingredient, coming right after salt. In Lawry's Garlic Spread it comes before the garlic which means the product contains more sugar than garlic. In Good Season's Low Calorie Italian dressing mix, sugar is the primary ingredient as it is in so many read-to-eat breakfast cereals.
Many baby food products, including some vegetables, still contain sugar.
For the last several years various health-related consumer activist groups have been petitioning government agencies to do something about the ubiquitousness of sugared products and particularly the advertising of them to children. There have been attempts, some successful, to remove junk food vending machines from school property. While there are junk foods which do not contain sugar, most of them are highly sweetened products: candy, cupcakes and sodas.
Last month the Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the Department of Agriculture to improve the nutritional quality of the food served at schools. Specifically they asked for a ban on highly sugared foods, not only in the vending machines but in the feeding programs as well. Some schools serve vitamin-fortified pastries as alternatives to cereal or bread in the breakfast programs.
In 1975, CSPI had asked the Food and Drug Administration to require that breakfast cereals list the percentage of sugar as well as the percentage of grain each contained. FDA turned down the request.
Last month the same public interest group asked the Federal Trade Commission to ban television advertising of "sugary snack foods" to children. The petition, signed by 10,000 health professionals also asked FTC "to require disclosure of sugar content and to include a health warning notice in ads on children's television for foods, normally eaten with meals, containing more than 10 per cent added sugar." Accompanying the petition was a plastic bag filled with 170 decayed teeth.
CSPI's petition follows one made by Action for Children's Television, (ACT) a Boston-based public interest group which monitors children's television. ACT had asked FTC to ban the advertising of candy to children.
It is difficult to know how the government will act since the FASEB report concludes: "Other than the contribution made to dental caries, there is no clear evidence in the available information on sucrose that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced."
At the same time the FASEB report implies that people would be better off if they ate less sugar. It says people would have less trouble staying away from sugared foods if the foods were labeled appropriately and if there "a greater selection of less sugared foods in the market place."
But there may be some changes in the wind. In February "Dietary Goals for the United States," a report of The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, called for the reduction in sugar consumption by 40 per cent.
The new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Donald Kennedy, believes strongly in giving people as much information on labels as possible so they can make informed decisions on the kind of foods they want to eat.
And the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Michael Pertschuk made his position very clear when he said television advertising is creating a "nation of sugar junkies."