Dana Carpender’s “Count the Sugar” Game
For reasons that should be obvious, I spend a remarkable amount of time in grocery stores, especially considering that we’re just a two person household. It should not surprise you, then, that I’ve come up with the occasional grocery store game. My favorite is “Count The Sugar.” I’ll grab an item generally purported to be healthful and count the varieties of sugar in it. For example, the folks at Metamucil have been touting their Meta Health Bars as a wholesome alternative to candy or cookies, stating outright that they are “heart healthy” and implying – though never actually saying – that they will aid weight loss. So when I saw Meta Health Bars at the cash register on a day when there was a considerable line, I grabbed one and played Count The Sugar.
Ingredient List for Cranberry Lemon Drizzle Meta Health Bars
Ingredients: Rolled oats, corn syrup, crisp rice (rice flour, malt extract, salt), invert sugar, granola (rolled oats, sugar, canola oil, honey, molasses), corn syrup solids, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), psyllium husk, raisin paste, glycerin, white compound coating (sugar, palm kernel oil, corn syrup solids, whey protein isolate, titanium dioxide, soy lecithin, salt, natural and artificial flavors), sunflower oil, natural flavors, gum acacia, soy lecithin, lemon powder, salt, citric acid, tocopherols.
11 Types of Sugars in the Cranberry Lemon Drizzle Meta Health Bars
- Corn Syrup
- Malt Extract
- Invert Sugar
- Corn Syrup Solids
- Sugar-sweetened dried cranberries
- Raisin Paste (mostly sugar)
- “White compound coating” including:
- Corn syrup solids (and I must say that “white compound coating” sounds exactly the opposite of scrumptious).
If my first-grade arithmetic is holding up, that’s 11 sources of sugar on the label, not counting the naturally-occurring sugar in the cranberries, which are, after all, pretty low in sugar on their own.
Eleven sources of sugar. Does this label indicate that the primary ingredient in Meta Health Bars is sugar? Nope. The first ingredient on the label is oh-so-wholesome-sounding rolled oats.
But the numbers do not lie: 31 grams of carbohydrate, only 3 of which are the much-touted soluble fiber; 1 gram insoluble fiber. 12 grams of sugar. (The rest of those carbs are starch, and will also do ugly things to your blood sugar.)
Why so many kinds of sugar? I mean, sure, as a cook I can see using both white sugar and molasses; they have different flavors. But 11 freakin’ kinds of sugar? Excessive, you think?
Ah, but there is a method to the madness. US labeling law requires that ingredients be listed in order of predominance. By using so many kinds of sugar, no one winds up being the most predominant ingredient, and therefore at the top of the list. Despite the fact that this thing is overwhelmingly a sugar bomb with a little laxative added, they don’t have to tell you up front “This thing is crammed with sugar” – which would, of course, ding the “healthy” image.
The bottom line is 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbohydrate, only 4 of which are fiber. And that carbohydrate includes 12 grams of sugar. Health food, my Aunt Millie.
(You know what has 15 grams of carbohydrate, including 5 grams of sugar and 6 grams of fiber, plus 5 grams of protein and a hefty dose of antioxidants? Four squares of Lindt 85% dark chocolate, that’s what. I only eat one or two squares a day, because that’s still a bit of a carb load for me, but still, by all measures it’s a healthier indulgence than Metamucil’s sugar-and-laxative bar.)
Should you wish to play Count The Sugar, here’s a list of kinds of sugar to start you off
- cane sugar
- raw sugar
- sugar syrup
- evaporated cane juice
- cane crystals
- crystalline fructose
- invert sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- fruit juice concentrates
- date sugar
- coconut sugar
- malt syrup
- yinnie syrup
- rice syrup
- maple syrup
- maple sugar
- agave nectar (I emphasize this because it is being touted as a healthful low-glycemic sweetener. Low glycemic it is. Healthful it is not. It’s worse for you than high fructose corn syrup, since it’s higher in fructose, and no more “natural.” Indeed, it’s made by a similar process.)
One more: The manufacturer of a popular line of “low carbohydrate” products lists “low glycemic monosaccharide” on many of their labels. I asked them – twice – whether this means that their products are sweetened with fructose, very definitely a sugar, and one that is worse for us than table sugar or corn syrup. They sent back an email that danced around the subject, clearly annoyed, but never actually denied that their sweetener was, indeed, fructose. From this, and the fact that fructose is widely and cheaply available – and, indeed, a low glycemic monosaccharide – I am assuming their preferred sweetener is fructose, and will not touch their products, not that I eat much processed low carb stuff anyway.
I’ve been playing Count the Sugar since the 1980s, and for quite a while the champion was a chewy granola bar mix, I disremember which brand, that contained seven kinds of sugar. The Meta Health Bar blows that out of the water. Might be a coincidence. Might be that the manufacturers are dividing their sugar load up into more sources. Might be that they are simply adding more and more sugar to their products. No way to really know.