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Who knew that we could weave such a tangled web when we practice not to deceive, but to inform? Ted Kyle of ConscienHealth reports on Vermont maple producers and legislators protesting an FDA requirement to label all the sugar in maple syrup as added sugar.

Maple syrup 

Vermonters are ticked. It’s time to implement the new Nutrition Facts label and they’re afraid it will give their beloved maple syrup a black eye. The label calls out added sugar. And pure maple sugar is what their syrup is all about. Natural is good, right? But added sugar is bad. So, which will it be? All natural or loaded with added sugar? There’s no doubt in the minds of Vermonters. Congressman Peter Welch summed it up: There are no added sugars. Maple is a pure product. Consumers want pure products. Nothing is more pure than maple syrup. That sounds simple. But the countervailing view is that this lovely syrup has only one purpose. For adding sweetness – in the form of maple sugar – to your food. It’s 67% maple sugar. So, it’s nothing but a source added sugar for your diet.

According to Welch, consumers think that added sugars are the bad stuff, like corn syrup, that big food companies add to unhealthy junk food. So, consumers might think something unnatural has been added to maple syrup if we start telling them it has added sugars. And by the way, honey producers aren’t too happy with this situation, either. The American Honey Producers Association says: “Honey is a pure sugar with no need for added sugars. So, this will mislead the consumer.” By this logic, pure cane sugar would have zero added sugars as well. A tangled web indeed.

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There’s considerable concern about the overall quality of our diet, especially the amount of “free sugars” (see Food for Thought for a definition) in the foods we are eating. This is a pretty technical paper, but it makes a useful point: when we go too high (over 25 per cent free sugars) or too low (under 5 per cent) we risk missing out on key nutrients. The researchers found for example, that those following a stringent less than 5% free sugars diet showed a drop in key micronutrients including folate and calcium. Peak intake for most micronutrients, report the researchers, was found in adults consuming between 5% and 15%. They also found that when “core food” intake (that’s the basics such as minimally processed fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and dairy foods) went down and discretionary foods (that’s treats) went up there was an increase in free sugars intake. No surprises there because that’s how we define a discretionary food (a just-so story).

For his 2014 book, The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (with Philippa Sandall and Claudia Shwide-Slavin), Alan Barclay put together a couple of diet plans to show what 5 per cent and 10 per cent added sugars look like in an overall healthy 2000-calories (8000 kilojoule) diet. In the nutritional analysis for these plans he includes the amount of added sugars and total sugars (that’s free sugars plus the naturally occurring sugars in whole foods – fruit, vegetables, grains and seeds).

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Thirty-two teenagers (average age 15) who volunteered for a randomized, crossover, controlled pilot feeding study rated the low 5% added sugar diet they were given to eat for one week as being just as tasty as the high 25% added sugar diet they tucked into for a second week. (The diets were calorie matched and there was a 4-week washout period in between.) They also reported that they found the low added sugar diet with its adequate fibre intake more filling compared with the high added sugar low fibre diet. Despite this, participants remained weight stable, and there was no difference in weight change between diet conditions.

This is just a small pilot study, but it does clearly suggest that if you have kids with hunger pangs and hollow legs, they won’t mind if you cut back the snacks and foods with added sugars (and we would add added refined starches to this) and boost their fibre intake with the good high-quality carbs – whole fruit, veg, beans and grains. 

This small study aimed to find out if there was a difference drinking tea sweetened with sugar or sucralose or stevia (non-nutritive sweeteners) on people who were stressed. There was a difference. Having a cuppa sweetened with sugar had a calming effect on consumers with acute stress; a cuppa with a non-nutritive sweetener didn’t. The researchers think the reason for the effect may not be sugar’s taste, but its calories.

Tea with sugar 

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Because there are biological similarities, research scientists find rats and mice valuable trial subjects. However, here at GI News we are wary of publishing the results of rodent studies because they should only be used to back-up and complement the results of human studies, not for scare-mongering. A rodent’s carbohydrate requirements are very different to ours. In particular, they evolved to eat raw seeds, not ripe fruit. Here are two recent studies. We leave you to make up your own mind on their relevance.
Running Rodent
#1 BURP While the sugars added to fizzy drinks are in the firing line, until now, no one thought to look at the added carbon dioxide gas. In this small study, the researchers show that rats downing fizzy drinks over a year gain weight at a faster rate than rats who drank flat soda or tap water. The weight gain was associated with increased production of the appetite hormone ghrelin, which is produced by both rodents and humans. In a parallel study, they also found that the ghrelin levels grew in 20 healthy young men drinking carbonated beverages compared to those who didn’t.

As an aside, did you know rats can’t burp. They can’t vomit either, and they don’t experience heartburn. Rats can’t vomit for several related reasons. They have a powerful barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. They don’t have the esophageal muscle strength to overcome and open this barrier by force, which is necessary for vomiting.

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#2 GULP The findings of a University of Sydney study published in Physiology and Behaviour, that modelled an added sugars to diet beverage switch in rats suggested swapping to artificially sweetened beverages may help improve metabolic and cognitive impairments that result from too much added sugars. The study included two experiments designed to assess the effect on female rats of switching to either water or a non-nutritively sweetened saccharin-based solution following unlimited access to a sucrose-based sugar solution. Although the results can’t be directly applied to humans the researchers suggest the study is important because it replicates the switch from sugar to non-nutritive sweetener, which is how sweeteners like saccharin are marketed. The authors also highlight a couple of study limitations:

  • Saccharin is a non-nutritive sweetener commonly reported in animal studies to promote weight gain and development of diabetes, but it is not as commonly consumed by humans as other sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, which may have different effects on metabolism. 
  • Previous studies with male rats have not come up with similar results. 

The study has other limitations. The amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages and saccharin were unrealistic because it was way higher than anything people consume. They were fed:

  • Between 33–51% of energy from sugar-sweetened beverages for 4–8 weeks, which works out at 5–7 cans of regular sugar-sweetened soft drink a day over 10–20 years in human terms. 
  • Saccharin intake for the rats was an average of 136mg of saccharin per kg body weight in experiment 1, and 298mg per kg body weight in experiment 2. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of saccharin for humans is 5mg per kg body weight. So, the rats were fed between 27–59 times the ADI, or around 25 to 60 times more than is considered safe for human consumption. 

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Everything about hummingbirds is rapid. It takes only three quick licks to reject water when they expect nectar. The birds pull back their beaks, shake their heads, and spit out the tasteless liquid. They are not fooled by the sugar substitutes in diet sodas. Their preference for sweetness has long been plain, but scientists can now understand the complex biology behind their taste for sugar. In a paper in Science, the team showed how hummingbirds’ ability to detect sweetness evolved from an ancestral savory taste receptor that is mostly tuned to flavors in amino acids. The research underscores how much remains to be learned about taste and other senses says Harvard’s Stephen Liberles. “Sensory systems give us a window into the brain to define what we understand about the world around us,” he said. “The taste system is arguably a really direct line to pleasure and aversion, reward and punishment, sweet and bitter. Understanding how neural circuits can encode these differentially gives us a window into other aspects of perception.”


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