This picture captures why “no sugar added” is a meaningless concept

It seems that every time I go to the grocery store I see more products proudly announcing that they have “no sugar added”.  Typically these claims are seen on juice and other products that contain a high sugar content.

As Yoni Freedhoff has pointed out in the past (emphasis mine):

[These claims are] there to make you feel that the product inside the box is a healthy one.

A quick peek at the back of the box is probably in order.

Take Mott’s Fruitsations Unsweetened Strawberry Fruit Rockets for instance. Reading the ingredients you’ll find that they include both, “Concentrated Strawberry Puree“, and, “Concentrated Fruit Juices“.

And what are concentrated purees and juices?

Sugar.  Plain old sugar.

I know that some people will say that sugar in juice is different from table sugar or high fructose corn syrup because it is “natural”.   I disagree.  But let’s say that we accept that the sugars found in juice are somehow “better” than added sugars, and that “no sugar added” is a term that has value.  What then to make of the below picture, courtesy of freelance science writer David Despain:

Photo by David Despain

Photo by David Despain

Sugar cane juice.  It meets all the same criteria as orange juice. There’s no added sugar. It’s “natural”.  But would anyone really make the argument that sugar cane juice is “healthy” as opposed to an occasional treat?  By the way, a cup of sugar cane juice has less calories than a cup of orange juice.

As I’ve said before, I’m not against juice.  I really like juice.  I just don’t think it’s a good idea to pretend that those calories somehow don’t count.


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6 Responses to This picture captures why “no sugar added” is a meaningless concept

  1. Granny Mumantoog says:

    OMG where to even begin!! Not only does that sugar cane juice say “no sugar added” on the top it says “100% Fresh Squeezed”! Have you ever seen a stalk of sugar cane? Does anyone actually think you can squeeze it in any way and end up with juice?!?! If so I can find some great swamp land to sell you cheap!

    As for fruit juice it’s mainly fructose which not only has the same problems for the body as sugar, but it’s processed in the liver which makes it even worse than sugar. I would love to have someone do a study on liver disease over the last 50 yrs. I’d be willing to bet that there has been a marked rise since the lowfat craze that had everyone go from drinking juice a little…maybe a glass in the morning…to what we have now which is people guzzling tons of juice every day. I cringe when I see my grandkids drinking juice all day long instead of water.

    I was as guilty of this as anyone. Before going lowcarb/Primal I was a vegetarian for 15yrs because I believed all the hype and convinced myself I couldn’t eat anything that once had a face. In the late 80s & most of the 90s I had a juicer and juiced everything thinking that all that juice was even healthier if I made it at home. I didn’t add sugar either! Over the course of those 15yrs my doctor would question my drinking habits every time my blood-work came back. I don’t drink so this was very odd!!! It seems though, that these high amounts of fructose in the liver mimic the onset of fatty liver disease that alcoholics get. It used to be a disease primarily associated with drinking a lot. I didn’t know anything about this back then. I’ve spent another 15 yrs studying nutrition, reading science, going through all the lowcarb/Primal/Keto/LCHF websites blogs and articles I could find, so I know a lot more now. Now I’m thinking there should be a study to look into this.

    Anyway, great article about the absurdity of our food package labeling. The other crazy one is “gluten free”…it’s on everything! Of course it’s not just the gluten it’s the starch, so gluten free is often on foods that are loaded with other grains, starches and of course sugar, HFCS, transfats you name it. Ugh!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for that comment. I’m still agnostic on the whole HFCS/fructose vs glucose debate. I really liked the interview that David Despain linked to in our discussion on Twitter, and agree that Dr Lustig shows a lot of really interesting mechanisms, but that I have yet to see as compelling evidence in humans.

      I also think that focusing too much on fructose causes a weird shift in the discussion, such that the benchmark becomes whether it is better or worse than glucose/table sugar (e.g. rather than asking simply whether something is good or bad).

      Everyone once in a while you’ll see a study showing that HFCS is “no worse” than table sugar, and people report on it as if this means HFCS is a health food (whereas it really just means that it is bad, but not quite as bad as we might have thought). So my view is that fructose/HFCS/glucose/table sugar are all bad for you in high doses, and it’s probably reasonable to keep an eye on all of them. I think it’s a reasonable strategy, and one that isn’t really affected if new research comes out confirming everyone’s hopes/fears RE fructose and HFCS.

  2. SC says:

    Sugar cane is indeed crushed (too hard for simply squeezing) by mechanical rollers to yield the juice. So, ‘fresh crushed’ would have been a better term !

  3. American Beverage Association, ABA Communications says:

    The bottom line here is sugars are sugars, and should be consumed in moderation – just like other sources of calories. Beverages, including 100% juice, soft drinks, sports drinks, and more, can be enjoyed as a part of a balanced diet and active life. Additionally, the non-alcoholic beverage industry continues to bring more low- and no-calorie choices to the marketplace in a variety of portion sizes so that consumers can choose the products that best meet their needs.
    -American Beverage Association

    • Travis says:

      The bottom line here is sugars are sugars, and should be consumed in moderation – just like other sources of calories.

      I agree! Although I would say that rather than simply restricting *all* calories, restricting foods that are high in calories and relatively unfilling (e.g. this includes liquid calories) is probably going to give you the biggest bang for your buck.