There’s no more “sugar coating it” – the May 2016 debut of the revised Nutrition Facts food label is shining a spotlight on sugars added during food processing to increase sweetness, enhance flavor and increase product shelf-life. Unlike naturally occurring sugar such as lactose and fructose, added sugars absorb rapidly in the body and tend to cause spikes in blood sugars.
“When large amounts of energy are dumped into the blood stream, the body has difficulty managing and converts the excess energy to fat storage,” explained Jenny Overly, Unidine’s Director of Nutrition, Health and Wellness. “This metabolic process leads to weight gain.”
The FDA’s recommendations are intended to highlight the connection between diet, obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The goal is to increase consumer awareness of added sugars in processed and packaged products and encourage healthier selections.
While the new FDA guidance does not go into effect until mid-2018, foodservice operators can take the lead by providing enhanced nutritional information and offering lower-sugar options. Overly offers the following suggestions:
- Save the Savory – Commercial mustard, barbecue sauce, salad dressings and tomato sauce generally all have added sugars. “Ask your dining services team to purchase savory products without added sugars, or better yet, make their own,” Overly said. She indicated that Unidine culinary teams are generally able to reduce sugar in condiments, dressings and sauces by 1/3 to 1/2 without impacting overall flavor.
- Smart Labeling – Although scratch cooking is not subject to the same FDA labeling requirements, customers should have easy access to the nutritional information for items served. Consider a wellness program that allows guests to easily identify healthful selections. Overly cautions not to cast the healthy menu items as diet food. Unidine provides client partners with a healthful menu extension called OhSoGood that includes entrees, breakfast items and desserts. A simple green OhSoGood logo identifies these flavorful and healthy menu options.
- Beverage Blunders – It is widely acknowledged that a majority of beverage selections are high in added sugars with a 20 ounce bottled soda containing as much as 16 teaspoons of sugar. Overly suggests challenging the foodservice team to reduce sugar-sweetened beverages to 25% of total stocked beverages. Fresh teas and fruit-infused waters can provide stealth health without drawing a lot of attention to the decreased availability of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Packaged Persistence – If your café stocks pre-packaged snacks and items to-go, request that the selection begin to reflect decreased offerings with added sugar to help change behavior. “Even before the new label begins appearing, a foodservice manager can look at the ingredient list and identify if sugar was added in any form,” Overly said. “Don’t forget ingredients are listed in order from highest to lowest concentration.”
- Make it Fresh – Cooking with real, fresh ingredients versus serving pre-made entrees, dressings and desserts will significantly reduce the amount of added sugar in the diet. Culinary teams can choose to create recipes that incorporate fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat protein options to offer satisfying, nutritionally-dense, flavorful menu items. “Just being fully satisfied from a meal decreases the cravings for sugary items,” Overly explains. Here is a checklist you can use to inspect your storage room, refrigerator and freezer and assess your dining program.
According to the American Heart Association, Americans consume about 23 tsp of sugar per day while the association recommends added sugar is limited to 6 tsp (100 calories) for women and 9 tsp (150 calories) for men per day. “My hope is that the labeling changes will encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugars in their products,” Overly explained. In the meantime, a concerted effort by the foodservice industry can go a long way towards changing behavior to combat obesity and chronic disease.