That seems an excellent idea, and one that will help people eat more healthily and save money.
How, you ask?
Well, I think if people realize how much of their precious food dollars they are spending on worthless -- even downright harmful -- calories, it will make it easier for them to make adjustments and allocate their money so that they get more nutritional bang for their buck.
But in order for the sugar labeling to be really meaningful for the U.S. consumer, I think they should take it a step further and label the sugar content in teaspoons instead of grams.
Grams are almost completely indecipherable to people in the U.S since we don't use the metric system in this country (I won't go into how ridiculous it is that we don't, but it truly is absurd).
By way of information: 4 grams = approximately 1 teaspoon.
Of course, any budget or health conscious person avoids the empty and expensive calories of soda like the plague, but seeing labels with easily understandable language might make even less mindful consumers reconsider how they allocate their food dollars.
However, it’s not just soda that contains tons of added sugar. The new labels would also make it easier to see the added sugar that is present even in more economically sensible and healthier foods.
For example, how many consumers realize that there are sometimes 5+ teaspoons of added sugar in that flavored yogurt they enjoy?
That’s why, from both a nutritional and budgetary point of view, it's a better choice to buy plain yogurt in larger sizes, apportion it yourself into small, serving size containers, and add your own flavorings, such as fruit, honey, or a bit of jam, etc.
You can often cut the sugar content by a third or more and the cost almost in half.
That’s a help in stretching your food dollars.
There are many other examples out there. Few of us realize, for example, that it's not at all unusual for every single slice of a loaf of sandwich bread to contain one-half to one full teaspoon of the sweet stuff (3-4 grams).
That means that with every sandwich you enjoy you could be eating more than 2 teaspoons of sugar in the bread alone.
This is one of the reasons my husband and I began making our own bread. That sounds like a daunting task, but he has found some excellent, quick, no-fuss recipes online at Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.
And I use my own slow cooker recipe that produces 2-3 loaves of whole grain bread in about 15 minutes of prep time. That recipe for slow cooker whole wheat bread can be found here.
Taking it further, many parents assume that juice is a healthy option for their children. However, it, too, often contains added sugars -- on top of the natural ones- that add to the cost and the empty calories.
It is far better to just drink plain water and to eat whole fruit, both from a health perspective and a financial one.
Short of that, try diluting the juice with extra water. It actually quenches the thirst better when it's less sweet.
Introduce juice to your kids this way from the beginning. Or gradually add more water, if they're accustomed to full strength. They'll be better off for it, and you'll save money.
Sports Drinks, Iced Teas, and Other "Healthy" Drinks
Here again, the assumption is often that these are healthier than soda, but the truth is they are often still loaded with sugar .
As to the notion that you need sports drinks when you participate in athletic activities, that's not true either. Plain water is the best source of hydration for most athletes, except in the most strenuous circumstances, or when it's extremely hot.
When it comes to iced tea, it's a cinch to make your own unsweetened variety by simply putting tea bags of your choice in a jug of water and leaving it out in the sun for a couple of hours to make sun tea. Or you can boil your own water, make a big pot of the tea of your choice, let it cool and refrigerate it.
Then when you go to drink it, you can add your own sugar to each glass, along with some mint and/or lemon for a delicious and refreshing drink that's a far healthier option than the big cans offer.
The take away? Before buying any canned or bottled drink product, I recommend reading the label to see just how much sugar it contains so you can make an informed decision about just how "healthy" it really is.
I know a man who lost 18 pounds over the course of a year simply by eliminating canned iced tea and sports drinks from his diet. As he discovered, they represent a lot of extra, useless calories in the form of sugar.
And he was also very happy to discover that he saved money in the process, too. Not a bad outcome at all.
If I were to hazard a guess, it would be that most people don't realize how much sugar their favorite brand of peanut butter contains.
This is the case with brands such as Skippy and Jif, as well as for most generic and store brands.
Check the labels, and you might be shocked to see that sugar is often the second ingredient, and can be almost a teaspoon (3-4 grams) per serving.
Now, I am an absolute believer in peanut butter as a mainstay of any budget diet. The peanut butter sandwich truly is an indispensable lunch or snack item for any family or person serious about saving money.
So, for a family on a tight budget, those sugary, processed brands may be your only option, since the natural peanut butters that contain only peanuts and salt are typically more expensive than these more processed ones.
If you can afford a less sugary brand, then I recommend that. Store and generic brands of natural peanut butters are often very good value.
But if you're generally watching your sugar intake in other areas of your diet, this one area of higher-than-needed sugar won't kill your family. As with everything else, it's about finding a balance that works for you.
Moderation is the key word here, as with all diet choices. But being informed about the presence of empty calories is an important first step in trying to avoid them.
Check the labels of such things as pasta sauces and canned tomato sauces, and you'll typically find sugar listed as an ingredient. Some of them contain as much as 4 teaspoons (16 grams) per 1/2 cup serving.
Few of us stick to a half cup serving, so it's probably closer to double that. That's a lot of sugar.
I recommend sticking to the least processed tomato products available, which are typically diced or crushed tomatoes, or tomato puree and tomato paste --- depending on the brand.
Check the labels to see which ones are least sweetened. That generally means skipping most jarred and canned sauces and name-brand products.
This is typically a big culprit when it comes to added sugar. So, on top of paying the absurd price so often charged for this product, consumers are also paying for empty calories that contribute to poor health.
An easy and very cheap alternative to try in place of the processed brands is plain oatmeal. Add your own own fruit and flavorings for a healthier, whole grain, lower sugar breakfast.
Sugar Has Long-Term Effects on Health
The bottom line is that all those grams and teaspoons of sugar add up to plenty of extra calories over a week, a month, and a year.
And our tastes become acclimated to the hidden sweetness in all our food, so that we find it extremely difficult to do without it.
Little wonder that we have a diabetes and obesity epidemic in this country.
Sugar represents empty calories, and is one of the ingredients you should minimize in your diet, both from a health standpoint and a budget one.
You can help yourself by reading nutrition labels so that you can compare foods and make informed choices about the ones to buy. These new rules make that easier.
It's far better to allocate your money to nutrient dense foods that will boost your well-being. That's part of the conscious spending and budgeting I recommend that puts you in charge of your money in a way that mindless shopping and eating never can.