Last week, CNN wrote a post indicating that the mayor of Cambridge, MA, Henrietta Davis, took steps to adopt the sugary drink ban that was proposed by New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomburg. Not only did Mayor Davis want to prevent oversized drinks sales (greater than 16 oz.), but she took it one step further by proposing to ban free refills on soft drinks at restaurants. “Our environment is full of way too many temptations,” Davis said. “This is one temptation that isn’t really necessary.”
This is a very bold move and some Americans will complain (mainly restaurant owners and those losing their free refills). However, with obesity rates and diabetes still on the rise, bold actions must be taken. Amid the studies and warning signs of inactivity and overeating in America, the majority of Americans are unwilling to make the healthy change. An action to restrict people from inflicting harm on themselves should not be looked upon as a governmental takeover, but rather a change to allow us to live longer. When the government decided to ban smoking in restaurants, there was an outcry from smokers complaining that their freedom was being taken away. However, after a few months, those who smoked went outside as usual, very little complaining occurred, and everyone was able to breathe easily again.
Limiting the amount of soft drinks someone consumes in one sitting may be a good start in fighting obesity and diabetes. However, the other part of the equation is not just quantity, but also quality. How much sugar is in that 12 oz cup? Sugar is the key ingredient in all soft drinks, and is a factor in the epidemic of obesity. The sugar content in drinks can be difficult to estimate, so we need to turn to the nutrition label on a product.
This is where a startling realization hits those who know how to read the label. The amount of calories within many products are not accurately represented! That’s right, those calories are not what they may appear. A search for an answer was prompted when I was explaining to my wife how one calculates the amount of calories in a product. To figure out the total calories in a product, the three macronutrients are summed up by their respective caloric value. In all foods and beverages, calories are calculated by adding the total amount of fats (1 g = 9 kcal), carbohydrates (1 g = 4 kcal), and proteins (1 g = 4 kcal) in the product. Sometimes alcohol is also added (1 g = 7 kcal). An example was presented using a can of Coke (see picture). When we take a look at the three Macronutrients, we see that the only one that has a value is carbohydrates. This made it easy…so I thought. When we multiply the amount of carbs in the beverage (39 g.) with its corresponding caloric value (4 kcal), we get 39 * 4 = 156 calories. But wait, why does the calories of the can state 140 cal? This is not a rounding issue as you will read below. The extensive search led me through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (who regulates the food label) to get to the bottom of the fiasco. Scrounging through the FDA guidelines for proper labeling of nutrition facts was daunting. I came across a plethora of jargon and redirections that made it hard even for the product manufacturer to adhere to the guidelines.
The following were some questions relating to the problem, but there was nothing in my search that could explain why Coke was able to misrepresent their caloric value by 16 calories!
N8. Should a value of 47 calories be rounded up to 50 calories or rounded down to 45 calories?
Answer: Calories must be shown as follows:
50 calories or less–Round to nearest 5-calorie increment: Example: Round 47 calories to “45 calories”
Above 50 calories–Round to nearest 10-calorie increment: Example: Round 96 calories to “100 calories”
21 CFR 101.9(c)(1) Also see Appendix H for rounding guidelines.
N18. What is meant by sugars on the Nutrition Facts label?
Answer: To calculate sugars for the Nutrition Facts label, determine the weight in grams of all free monosaccharides and disaccharides in the sample of food. The other nutrients declared on the nutrition label are defined in 21 CFR 101.9(c). 21 CFR 101.9(c)(6)(ii)
N16. How is total carbohydrate calculated?
Answer: Total carbohydrate is calculated by subtracting the weight of crude protein, total fat, moisture, and ash from the total weight (“wet weight”) of the sample of food. 21 CFR 101.9(c)(6)
When I was able to find the section on carbohydrates and caloric measurement requirements (see references), there was nothing that mentioned how accurate the manufacturer had to be when producing a number. They did state that a certified chemical testing company had to weigh all amounts of nutrients before producing the label. So my question is, what scientist doesn’t know how to do basic arithmetic? Before banning the extra-large cups and refills, we might want to figure out how much sugar we really are consuming.