Smile :)I discovered something very interesting when I was writing yesterday’s post about Crystal Light.

I was reading the ingredient label and found that the third ingredient listed is Corn Syrup Solids** (a sugar), and at the end of the ingredient label, it reads: **Adds a trivial amount of sugar.

The front label of my Crystal Light Peach Tea says “sugar free”. I was confused because “sugar free” and “adds a trivial amount of sugar” don’t jive. In my head, when I see “sugar free” on a label, I take that to mean it doesn’t contain sugar. Is it just me, or is this what you would think, too?

Even though the label says the amount of sugar is “trivial”, it is still sugar, so it’s not sugar free. Additionally, the top 4 ingredients of any food product are the main ingredients of that product. Corn syrup is a sugary sweetener, just like high fructose corn syrup and crystalline fructose are. Therefore, since “corn syrup solids” is one of the main ingredients, how can its amount be so trivial?

Beyond my question of just how trivial the amount of sugar is in the Crystal Light, I did some more research and found a “food labeling guide” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This guide provides the information on just how our food is being labeled.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the chart titled, “Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims”, the last one listed under the nutrient column is sugar (a misnomer, since sugar isn’t nutritious!).

The chart reads that in order for a product to be labeled sugar free, it must contain:

  • “Less than 0.5 g sugars per reference amount and per labeled serving (or for meals and main dishes, less than 0.5 g per labeled serving)”
  • “No ingredient that is a sugar or generally understood to contain sugars except as noted below(*)”

Then, if you follow the asterisk and read the line directly under that table, you will find: Notes: * Except if the ingredient listed in the ingredient statement has an asterisk that refers to footnote (e.g., “* adds a trivial amount of fat”).” This sounds familiar, since my Crystal Light was labeled in exactly the same manner (**Adds a trivial amount of sugar).

First of all, I find it highly interesting that no ingredient that is generally understood to contain sugars can be included in a sugar free product. If you have not read my posts yet on high fructose corn syrup or crystalline fructose, both of these are other forms of sugar.

Please tell me though, how long have you known this? How many people do you think are out there who do not know this? Yes, you’re right, it would follow that it is not generally known that sweeteners made from corn are also sugars, correct? Or, if they are (or become to be) generally known as sugars, just go ahead and label the product sugar free, put an asterisk on the sugar ingredients, and footnote them!

Right, this doesn’t make sense, does it.

While I think that public knowledge is increasing in this area, I am someone who likes to think that I am fairly knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition, (I am not a nutritionist), however, even I only recently (December 2006) became aware of hfcs and how harmful it is; not only your health, but also your weight (your brain doesn’t get the message that you are full when you eat foods that contain it).

Crystalline fructose was also new to me; I just learned about it in March of this year. So here I am, someone who prides herself on being up on processed food, and I am learning new things all the time. What about the people who don’t investigate, seek out information, or read labels?

Something else interesting to note on that chart: there is no definition for a low sugar food. Specifically, it states, “Not Defined. No basis for recommended intake”.

Update 2014: The FDA has changed their chart since I first wrote this article in 2007. Today you will see that their chart states under the “Low” sugar column that this labeling is “Not Defined. May not be used”.

All of this is something to think about the next time you see “low sugar” or “sugar free” on a processed food label! There is so much more that I could go into regarding the FDA chart, however this is enough for one article, and you can also examine it yourself on their website.

Isn’t it interesting that the food manufacturers (set forth by the FDA) have these creative ways of labeling processed food?

What do you think about this? Wouldn’t you have thought that “sugar free” meant that the product didn’t contain any sugar?

Photo Credit: Andrew*