Evaporated cane juice sounds like a healthy ingredient. Evaporated implies unprocessed, cane seems to be natural and many consumers associate juice with health. But, evaporated cane juice is a euphemism for sugar. Evaporated cane juice, cane juice, organic cane juice and organic evaporated cane juice are all terms used to hide the addition of sugar in processed foods.
The FDA issued a new guidance this month suggesting that manufacturers use the common names for sugar ingredients and avoid misleading terms, such as evaporated cane juice. Juice, as defined by the FDA, is “the aqueous liquid expressed or extracted from one or more fruits or vegetables" (1). Although sugar cane is a plant and may be classified as a vegetable in a broader sense, the FDA does not consider it a vegetable. Sugar, as defined by the FDA, is sucrose obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets.
To create evaporated cane juice, sugar cane is crushed, the fluid extracted and then clarified. Water is evaporated and the remaining solids are filtered, crystallized and placed in a centrifuge to separate out the molasses. Although the process may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, the result is 99% to 99.8% sucrose.
The diagram to the right shows the three types of double sugars, sucrose, maltose and lactose. Table sugar is sucrose, malt sugar is maltose and milk sugar is lactose. Evaporated cane juice may vary slightly from table sugar in physical appearance, but it is nearly chemically identical to table sugar.
The new document is a guidance for the industry, not a requirement. We will likely continue to see evaporated cane juice in ingredient lists. The key is to recognize this ingredient as added sugar.
The FDA has finally updated the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged food. The process only took 9 years and 943 pages (1, 2). The label changes reflect the goal of communicating the link between diet and chronic disease to consumers (3). In the image below, the current Nutrition Facts label is shown on the left and the new Nutrition Facts label is shown on the right.
Nutrition Fact Label Changes:
The main changes to the nutrition facts label include (3):
The FDA states that this change reflects updated information about nutrition science (3). The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests no more than 10% of calories should come from added sugars (4). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 5% of total calories from added sugars. This means the AHA recommended intakes for added sugar are as follows (5):
One 12 ounce serving of soda has, on average, 23 grams of added sugar.
In the past, manufacturers were only required to list total grams of sugar. This would include naturally occurring sugar in plant food and lactose from milk, as well as added sugar. The consumer has been left to guess, or guesstimate, the amount of sugar added to a product.
Sugar Industry Exposed
Last year, Roberto Ferdman exposed the sugar industry in a Washington Post article. Documents, dating back to the 1950s, showed the industry’s use of political influence to skew government medical research on sugar’s role in the development of tooth decay (6). In addition, The American Beverage Association, spent almost $40 million in 2009 battling a possible federal tax on sugar sweetened drinks (6).
Not surprisingly, The Sugar Association expressed their disappointment of the ruling to require added sugars on the label, citing a lack of scientific justification. The association brazenly claimed that this unprecedented action by the FDA could “deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America” (7).
Most Americans Consume Too Much Added Sugar
As seen in the chart above, from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, most Americans are exceeding the recommended upper limit for added sugar (9). What might be most disturbing is the added sugar intake in young children. Evidence suggests that limiting added sugars, in conjunction with a healthy eating pattern, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer (8). Most health organizations recommend limiting added sugar intake. More information on sugar.
Manufacturers will need to comply with the new Nutrition Facts panel regulations by July 26, 2018 (3).
It’s easy get overwhelmed when looking for yogurt at the grocery store. Dozens of brands line the shelves in the refrigerated section. We can choose from light, whipped or creamy styles. We have options for whole, low-fat and nonfat varieties. Flavors include strawberry, blueberry, apple-cinnamon and lemon custard. We can enjoy authentic Greek nonfat yogurt with dark chocolate chunks, coffee bean bliss or salted caramel crunch. The number of choices for yogurt is mind blowing. In Marion Nestle’s book, What To Eat, she describes finding 400 different varieties of yogurt in one medium-sized Supermarket in New York (1).
Yogurt Health Halo
Yogurt is a food produced by the fermentation of milk. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt make it a probiotic and the live microorganisms contained in yogurt can benefit our health (2, 3, 4). Yogurt is high in calcium, iodine, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and riboflavin and is a good source of zinc, potassium and protein (5, 6). These features create a yogurt health halo.
Traditional plain yogurt is thick and has a sour taste which is why many of us prefer added fruit and flavors. With these additions, yogurt has gradually morphed from a health food into a dessert. It’s difficult to find plain yogurt among the cleverly packaged, colorful cups of sugar infused, creatively flavored concoctions marketed as yogurt.
Yogurt has amazingly maintained its healthy status, despite what has been added. It’s easier to find yogurt with Oreo cookies, M&Ms and Whoopers than yogurt without anything added. Most of us know that the addition of M&Ms to yogurt makes it more like a snack food than a health food. Yet, few of us would equate a breakfast of strawberry yogurt & granola to ice cream & cookies. Strawberry yogurt with granola may have fewer calories and fat than most brands of ice cream, but it's likely to have as much added sugar and more food additives.
Exploring Chocolate Yogurt
Let's take a look at Chocolate Haze Craze yogurt shown below. What about this product tells us it's healthy? It contains calcium, it’s an excellent source of protein, it is low-fat and wears the yogurt health halo. If we look at the ingredients we see low-fat yogurt as the first ingredient. But, the second ingredient is evaporated cane juice. Evaporated cane juice is code for sugar. The next two ingredients are water and hazelnuts and the 5th ingredient is sugar, followed by chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. The remaining nine ingredients are mostly food additives.
Comparing Yogurt and Ice Cream
Let’s compare our chocolate yogurt with Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy® ice cream.
Chocolate yogurt ingredients
Low-fat yogurt (nonfat milk, cream and live and active cultures) evaporated cane juice, water, hazelnuts, sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milk, cocoa powder, natural flavor, pectin, locust bean gum, guar gum, organic soy lecithin, salt, vanilla.
Chocolate ice cream ingredients
Cream, liquid sugar, skim milk, water, cocoa, wheat flour, sugar, soybean oil, egg yolks, chocolate liquor, brown sugar, cocoa, honey, guar gum, vanilla extract, natural flavors, salt, sodium bicarbonate, cocoa butter, carrageenan, soy lecithin (7).
Chocolate Yogurt and Chocolate Ice cream Differences
Let's start with the differences between these two products. The data for the comparison is from the USDA Nutrient Database (8) and the serving size used for yogurt is 150 grams, similar to the 6 ounce serving at the grocery store. The serving of ice cream used is 100 grams, which is like an extra large scoop. Although these are the serving sizes used, it's important to keep in mind that this makes the comparison between the two somewhat unbalanced.
The first ingredient in the yogurt is low-fat yogurt and it has live and active cultures. The ice cream does not. There is less fat in the yogurt. The yogurt has 10 grams per serving, while the ice cream has 14 grams per serving. There is less saturated fat in the yogurt as well. There are 12 grams of protein in the yogurt, but only 5 grams in the ice cream. Although the ice cream actually has double the amount of fiber than the yogurt, it's only 2 grams compared with the yogurt's 1 gram. The yogurt comes in a small container that makes it easy to stop eating. The larger container of Ben & Jerry's makes it easy to eat more than a single serving.
Chocolate Yogurt and Chocolate Ice cream Similarities
The second ingredient in both the ice cream and the yogurt is sugar. Remember, evaporated cane juice is sugar. If we look through the ingredients, we can find 13 similar ingredients. The similar ingredients are highlighted in red, the cane juice, which is sugar, is highlighted in blue. Sugar, cream, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, natural flavor, guar gum, soy lecithin, salt and vanilla are all in both products. What is one of the most striking similarities is the amount of sugar.
Yogurt has 22 grams of sugar per serving and the ice cream
has 23 grams of sugar per serving.
Keep in mind the standardized serving sizes for yogurt and ice cream are different, 150 to 100 grams respectively, but this is a striking similarity. Both have naturally occurring sugar, lactose in the milk and cream, so it’s difficult to know exactly how much added sugar is in each product.
Most Yogurt is Dessert
Although yogurt may have edged out ice cream in regards to health in the comparison above, the two are similar in many respects. Their core ingredients are the same, they have similar amounts of sugar and the same types of food additives. Most yogurts on the market are closer to dessert foods than health foods. Most yogurts have no real fruit, only fruit flavors. Some yogurts have real fruit, but they will generally have more sugar than fruit (1).
There are about 6 grams of naturally occurring sugar in a 6 ounce container of yogurt. The remaining sugar is added. If the yogurt has been heat-treated, the microorganisms in the yogurt will not survive and will have no health benefit. These brands should carry the label “heat-treated after culturing”, as determined by the FDA (9).
Choose Plain Yogurt
When you choose yogurt, look for plain yogurt without added sugars, artificial sweeteners or flavors. Look for brands with "live and active cultures". Add whole, fresh fruit, nuts or seeds to plain yogurt and enjoy a delicious treat while obtaining all the health benefits. If you want to eat ice cream ... eat ice cream. Treat it like a dessert, eat it occasionally and enjoy it!
Nutritional doublethink is the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory beliefs about a food. Nutritional doublethink is the ability to believe a food is unhealthy, while at the same time believing the food is healthy. The term nutritional doublethink is derived from George Orwell’s book, 1984, best known for the omnipresent, tyrannical party leader, Big Brother. In 1984, the ruling party encouraged doublethink, defined as the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory thoughts in one's head without recognizing the contradiction. We can apply the concept of doublethink to nutrition.
Manufacturers use food labeling laws to make unhealthy products look healthy, to make unnatural products appear natural and to make processed food appear whole. For example, Organic Fruit Snacks have “natural strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavors” listed immediately under the product name. Organic and fruit imply naturally occurring. The common thought process is, if it’s natural and contains fruit, then it most certainly must be healthy.
The package displays a picture of what looks like colorful gummy bunny snack foods. Inherently we know that gummy snacks are not foods that promote health. We know that gummy snacks do not occur in nature. It’s clear that these snacks are “fruit flavored” and not “whole” fruit. We know this product is not natural, we know this product is processed and we know candy is not healthy. Yet, we accept it as natural, we accept it as whole and we it accept as a healthy snack. By accepting this product as both unhealthy and healthy, as unnatural and natural, as processed and whole, we’ve simultaneously accepted two contradictory beliefs about a single food. This food product has created nutritional doublethink.
Bunny Fruit (TM) Snacks ingredient list:
Organic tapioca syrup, organic pear juice from concentrate, organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup solids, citrus pectin, citric acid, sodium citrate, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural flavors, organic sunflower oil, organic carnauba wax, colors (black carrot, blackcurrant extracts).
Translated ingredient list:
Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, fiber additive, food additive, food additive, vitamin C, natural flavors created in a lab, omega-6 fatty acids, food additive, color additive.
Sugar intake is associated with tooth decay, fatty liver, insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity, food addiction, heart disease and cancer (1-5). Although this product boasts 100% of the daily value of vitamin C, the vitamin C is not squeezed from an orange. Most vitamins are now made in China, with China being one of the largest suppliers of vitamin C in the world (6). Fortifying Organic Fruit Snacks with Vitamin C is violating the Jelly Bean Rule. The FDA’s Jelly Bean Rule states,
“…random fortification of foods could … result in deceptive or misleading claims for certain foods. The Food and Drug Administration does not encourage indiscriminate addition of nutrients to foods, nor does it consider it appropriate to fortify … snack foods such as candies (7).“
Although a slightly better choice than it's conventional counterpart with artificial colors such as Red #40 or Yellow #5, Organic Fruit Snacks are more like candy than fruit.
Avoid nutritional doublethink by reading labels and identifying sugar and food additives in ingredient lists. Don’t be fooled by health claims, the word natural or assume that organic means healthy.
Christine Dobrowolski is a nutritionist and whole-foods advocate.