Americans Are Determined to Get Rid of Their Collective Sweet Tooth
The evidence is mounting that Americans have moved on from reviling carbs and fat and have landed on a new ingredient to demonize and avoid: sugar.
From local soda tax measures to the updated federal nutrition label requirements and strict new recommendations for consumption, policy makers and the medical community are singling out the sweet stuff. It appears that consumers are listening: According to NPD Group, which tracks consumer trends, sugar tops the list of ingredients diners want to avoid. A recent survey found that 65 percent of consumers wanted either to reduce the amount of sugar they eat or to stop eating it altogether, according to QSR magazine, a fast-food industry trade publication.
While the new FDA requirements for nutrition labels don’t go into effect until 2018, the NPD survey suggests that the demand for less sugary foods has arrived. So does the historic low that soda consumption hit this year. As a country, we’ve come a long way from the 1980s and ’90s mentality that as long as foods were fat-free, you could eat as much as you wanted. (Remember SnackWell’s?)
It was partly the low-fat craze that caused sugar consumption in the U.S. to spike—and according to many nutritionists and public health officials, that led to the increase in obesity rates and other diet-related diseases. Between about 1920 and 1980, American sugar consumption began to plateau and even drop, at times, after steadily increasing for a century. But when fat became the reigning diet villain, food makers began to take it out of a whole host of products, including savory items, and had to find some way to make up for the loss in flavor. They did so with sugar.
Even if consumers are ready to cut back, as the NPD survey suggests, it can be difficult to find the sweet stuff in our diets. The amount of sugar hiding in foods that aren’t soda, candy, or ice cream is significant and not always apparent. In 2018, the new nutrition facts label, which will feature a line for “added sugar,” should make efforts to cut back a bit easier—but who knows what food obsession we’ll have moved on to by then.