Pop Quiz: What do you and some fast-moving bacteria have in common? Surprise answer: A taste for sweets. Sugar isn’t just a seasoning, it’s a pleasure that resonates with virtually all living creature except felines from lions to tabbies who long ago switched from eating plants, with their natural sweeteners, to meat–with none–and thus have lost their sweet tooth.
Humans on the other hand are in love with sweeteners right from babyhood when we smile when offered something sugary. Along with a general aversion to exercise, that’s one of the things that push us over the edge into obesity and its constellation of health problems.
A few years ago, USDA tinkered with food labels to separate natural sugars from added sugars. Earlier this month, they went a step farther to set limits on sugary foods such as cereals, flavored milks and pastries in school breakfast and lunches served to nearly 30 million kids every day of the year. By 2027 added sugars will be limited to fewer than 10% of the total calories per week for school meals.
NYC Council Majority Leader Keith Powers’ wants to take that up the age line. A recent study from Harvard Medical school shows that people who get 17 percent to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar have a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who consumed only 8 percent of such calories. Powers’ “Sweet Truth Act” aims to help reverse those stats and lower our rising grownup risk of diabetes and other sugar and weight-related problems.
How to do that? Easy peasy. Int. 0687-2022 would require chain restaurants to place warning icons next to all menu items that contain more than 50 grams (a whopping 12 ½ teaspoons) of added sugars, thus broadening the Council’s 2021 requirements for sugar warnings on prepackaged items. Powers’ fellow sponsors include 37 of the 51 members of the City Council, four out of five Borough presidents, and–on paper–a recent poll claimed 85 percent of New Yorkers. Alas, that last impressive figure may be more than slightly iffy in real life.
When researchers at the University of Minnesota showed volunteers packages for 64 typical sweetened products and tracked their subjects’ eye-movements to see where they really looked, what the doctors saw them do was not what shoppers said they did. An impressive one-third of the volunteers reported “almost always” looking at calorie content. A similar number said they tracked the fat content, and about one-quarter reported checking for sugars.
The real results, published in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed fewer than one in ten volunteers checking the calorie count and a miniscule one in a hundred scanning for fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size. In short, as study lead author Mary Christophe noted, “While older adults might be prompted to eat better due to health conditions, we need to find a better way to provide support and motivation to eat well.”
But there’s some good news here for Council member Powers. The specific list of those who actually took the time to read the Fact labels: Women. People with high education and income. People who regularly prepare food. People who are physically active. People classified as overweight. People trying to lose, gain or maintain weight
Sounds like the Councilman might just know his constituents. And those in the other nine Manhattan Council districts.
You. Me. Us.