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Your brain on sugar in school or at work

You may want your kids to watch the video on "This is your brain on sugar." Al;so, you may wish to see the October 3, 2013 article, "School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar - Philly.com." The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) | Food and Nutrition Service and the USDA's School Breakfast Program (SBP) | Food and Nutrition Service should adopt a new set of nutrient targets and standards for menu planning, says a recent report from the Institute of Medicine.

Your brain in school on sugar.
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

The recommended targets and standards would update and improve the programs' abilities to meet children's nutritional needs and foster healthy eating habits.

School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar, according to an October 20, 2009 news release, "IOM recommends new nutritional requirements for school meal programs." Sugar-related products are the least expensive source of calories in the school meal program. The IOM recommends new nutritional requirements for school meal programs.

The report's recommendations will bring school meals in line with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Dietary Reference Intakes. They will limit sodium and the maximum number of calories, and encourage children to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The programs' current nutrition standards and meal requirements are based on the 1995 Dietary Guidelines and the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances.

Implementation of the recommendations will likely raise the costs of providing school meals -- particularly breakfasts -- largely because of the increased amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods involved, stated the committee that wrote the report. A combination of higher federal meal reimbursement, capital investment, and additional money for training food service operators will be needed to make the necessary changes in school cafeterias.

Programs about children's nutrition shape the dietary habits of kids

The question is whether everyone understands children's nutritional needs and the dietary factors that contribute to obesity, heart disease, and other chronic health problems. Can the changes recommended in the recent report assure parents that schools are providing healthful meals that are tasty enough for kids to eat rather than leave on the plate or toss in the trash can?

The report updates the school meals programs' nutrition standards with a recommended set of nutrient targets that are higher for protein, vitamins, and minerals and lower for sodium. The committee also set maximum calorie levels for the first time. Lunches should not exceed 650 calories for students in grades K-five, 700 for children in grades six-eight, and 850 for those in grades nine-12. Breakfast calories should not exceed 500, 550, and 600 respectively for these grade groups.

To reduce the health risks associated with excessive salt intake, the sodium content of school meals should be gradually reduced over the next 10 years. For example, recent data show that a typical high school lunch contains around 1,600 milligrams of sodium. The report recommends that lunches for high school students should eventually contain no more than 740 milligrams. The committee recognized that consumers are less likely to detect incremental changes, and it is unrealistic to expect food preparers to make rapid, dramatic changes and still produce meals children would eat.

Also, you can check out the October 3, 2013 article from Richard Hartog/For The Center for Investigative Reporting, School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar. Schools should plan weekly menus around foods rather than a set of nutrients, the committee concluded. The report recommends new standards for the kinds and amounts of foods that should be part of menu planning that would largely achieve the nutrient targets.

The main changes are the greater amounts and variety of vegetables and fruits that schools should offer, the replacement of a substantial amount of refined grain products with products rich in whole grains, and the replacement of whole or 2 percent milk with 1 percent or nonfat milk. Schools that allow students to decline individual items rather than take a whole meal should require them to take at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal. The meal programs currently have no such requirements.

The amount of fruit offered in breakfasts should increase to 1 cup per day for all grades and in lunches should increase to 1 cup per day for students in grades nine-12. No more than half the fruit schools provide should be in the form of juice.

The amount of vegetables offered should increase to 3/4 cup per day for grades K-eight, and 1 cup per day for grades nine-12. Schools should offer starchy vegetables such as potatoes less often and provide at least 1/2 cup each of green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables, and legumes per week

Schools should ensure that half or more of the grains and breads they provide are whole grain-rich, meaning they contain 50 percent or more whole grains. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should require food manufacturers to label products with their whole-grain content to help food preparers ensure they are meeting the standards.

Students should be provided 1 cup of 1 percent or nonfat milk at breakfast and at lunch each day. This will help ensure schools meet requirements to keep the saturated fat content of meals below 10 percent of total calories.

The amount of meat or meat alternatives in lunches should be 2 ounces on most days for all grades, according to the government and some nutritionists, but schools also should have the flexibility to provide greater amounts to students in higher grades. The amount of meat or meat alternatives in breakfasts should be 1 ounce per day for children in grades K-eight and 2 ounces on most days for high school students, says the government and some of its nutritionists.

The National School Lunch Program is available in 99 percent of U.S. public schools and in 83 percent of private and public schools combined

The School Breakfast Program is available in 85 percent of public schools. About 30.6 million schoolchildren -- 60 percent -- participated daily in the school lunch program in fiscal year 2007, and 10.1 million children ate school breakfasts. Participating schools served about 5.1 billion lunches and 1.7 billion breakfasts that year.

Food and beverages are also available through a la carte service in cafeterias, school stores, snack bars, and vending machines in many schools. The IOM recommended nutrition standards for these products, which compete with school meals, in a 2008 report, Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools. Also, you may wish to check out the site of the National Academy of Sciences.

This report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. A committee roster follows.

Copies of School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children are available from the National Academies. Additional information can be found at the School Meals site. Or check out the National-Academies.org podcast of the public briefing held. Or see, the National Academy of Sciences site.

You may wish to check out the report which is available at the National-Acdemies.org site. Other sites you may wish to see are the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Nutrition Board. Or see the Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, or the National Academy of Sciences

Almost everything about a school cafeteria meal has a regulation. The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in breakfasts and lunches. It sets minimum standards for servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, milk and meat. You can check out the October 3, 2013 article from Richard Hartog/For The Center for Investigative Reporting, School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar.

But one widely used and often-overused product has no official limits: sugar

As Congress faces increased scrutiny over subsidies to the sugar industry, nutritionists and anti-obesity crusaders are focusing on the amount of sugar in school meals – and asking whether regulations governing school lunches deliberately exclude limits on sugar to favor a powerful industry.

Parents want to know why the food industry has pushed back against having a sugar standard. You can check out some of the research at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been pushing for a limit on added sugars for years. The government has a lot to say about dietary guidelines – fats, salts and calories. So why choose to leave one dietary guideline out?” For more information, please check out the October 3, 2013 article from Richard Hartog/For The Center for Investigative Reporting, School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar.

Recent research shows that sugar levels in school meals are more than double what is recommended for the general public. Elementary school lunch menus contain 115 percent of the recommended daily calories from added sugars and fats, according to a November 2013 study by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Middle school and high school lunch menus also are sugar- and fat-heavy, averaging between 59 and 74 percent of the recommended amounts.

About 1 in 5 school lunch menus includes dessert, the federal study explained. The most common sources of sweets are cookies, cakes and brownies, some of which are counted as grain requirements. Other popular options are fruit with gelatin, ice cream and pudding. But the gelatin may contain sugar, if it's the usual commercial gelatin desserts, unless it's unsweetened, clear gelatin with chopped up fruit or vegetables floating inside the gelatin. Sometimes that type of gelatin is used with pureed cheese such as cream cheese or cottage cheese, with fruit. It depends upon the particular recipe and ingredients.

The data from the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment is based on a 2010 survey of about 900 schools across the country and is considered the most comprehensive federal research on school meals.

For years, schools added sweets, such as graham crackers or cookies, to bump up calorie counts and meet minimum thresholds. Researchers say that practice is less common now that the USDA has implemented calorie limits. But some say sugary treats still are appealing to school administrators.

The report did not break out sugars specifically. It also didn’t count sugars that occur naturally in fruit and milk, but rather sweeteners added to processed or prepared foods. The USDA, which administers the national school lunch and breakfast programs, says newly created total calorie limits are designed to discourage extra-sugary and fatty foods. A USDA spokesman noted that as of June 30, about 70 percent of all schools have shown they’re in compliance with the new plan, which means students are eating healthier meals.

Some researchers say the level of sugar in school meals is far from ideal, and even bigger challenges loom outside the cafeteria.

“One problem in schools is the birthday celebrations, sports events and teachers giving kids candy for correct answers,” said Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” and a nutrition professor at New York University. “Those are unregulated.”

For its part, industry representatives at the Sugar Association, a Washington lobbying group, said the USDA based its final rules on “many important and practical considerations.” For one, it said in a statement, “sugar makes many healthful foods palatable so children will eat them, which the science confirms helps increase intakes of many essential vitamins and minerals.”

“We continue to emphasize that the most important consideration of a healthful diet is the nutritional value of the foods and beverages consumed, not the sugar content,” the association said. “Portion control, monitoring caloric intake and being physically active are among the most important tools children can learn for long-term health.”

Researchers say students’ sugar consumption places them at greater risk for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Boys consume an average of about 360 calories – more than 22 teaspoons – of added sugars a day, according to a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Girls average about 280 calories – more than 17 teaspoons – daily.

“We as a society have created this issue and become very dependent on sugar,” said Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California. “I think we have to work at various levels to rely less on sugar. One aspect of that is to have some kind of public health agreement to limit dietary sugar consumption.”

The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in school breakfasts and lunches but has no official limit on sugar.

Even if regulators eventually agree to restrict sugar in meals, schools would face the challenge of finding more healthful processed foods and the money to buy them. The federal government reimburses schools between 27 cents and $2.86 for each lunch served, depending on how much students can pay. Many school districts struggle to run their cafeterias with the current funding.

Schools have come to rely on revenue from vending machines, which Sharp says are one of the worst sources of sugary snacks and drinks on campus. He’s optimistic about the new standards released by the USDA that require items sold at school vending machines and snack bars to meet minimal nutrient requirements and limit sodium, sugar and fat.

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, no more than 35 percent of the weight of a snack food will be allowed to come from sugar. Nearly 40 states, including California, already have implemented guidelines for school snacks.

But even as regulators tighten rules, other challenges arise.

“In L.A., there’s some neighborhoods where street vendors come around the school at the start of school and during breaks,” Goran said. “The students can easily buy a boatload of sugary products.”

How much sugar is healthy?

For years, researchers have debated how much sugar can be consumed in a healthy diet. USDA guidelines say calories from added sugars and solid fats should be limited to 5 to 15 percent of daily calories but provides no specific rule for sugars.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization recommends that added sugars make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day of added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) and men consume no more than 150 calories (roughly 9 teaspoons).

According to the CDC, American children consume about 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugars, which include white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and other sweeteners.

Some academics who believe that Americans are eating too much sugar blame the lack of regulations on the political clout of the food and beverage industry. Also, you may wish to see, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.”

Excess sugar is addictive, toxic and that in the amounts consumed by Americans, sugar changes metabolism, raises blood pressure and damages the liver. You can get the sugar you need from fruit, for example, instead of adding table sugar to baked goods made with fats and bleached white flour.

You can bet your last penny that the Sugar Association will argue that any opinon about excess sugar in the diet lacks scientific basis because sugar consumption is correlated with, but not the proven cause of, health problems like Type 2 diabetes. After all, fructose also has been accused of issues with health. The key word is excess sugar or excess fructose. One apple a day, for example, or a few berries give you plenty of sugar along with your other healthy foods.

USDA officials say school meal regulations are based on independent scientific recommendations and input from all stakeholders. USDA officials declined to be interviewed but provided a statement that read in part: “We used expert guidance as well (as) public feedback to create the meal patterns in a way that not only promotes good nutrition, but also could be implemented in schools.”

Schools boot flavored milks

Sugar is disappearing from Los Angeles school cafeterias. The Los Angeles Unified School District made the controversial decision two years ago to remove chocolate and strawberry-flavored milks from lunch menus. And in the last few years, the district has cut sweeteners by about 30 percent, slimming down banana bread, coffee cakes and cereals it serves. Officials plan to eliminate all added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup in 2015. Some schools replace cookies with fruit.

Researchers finally were able to trap the carbon from dietary sugar so it could be used as a measure of long-term sugar intake by looking at the protein in a hair or blood sample. Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks just found a new tool to measure sugar consumption.

The researchers identified a new tool that can dramatically improve the notoriously inaccurate surveys of what and how much an individual eats and drinks. Their research is published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, according to a June 18, 2013 IAB news release, "Scientists find new tool to measure sugar consumption."

Conventional wisdom says that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and fruit juice is a significant contributor to obesity and chronic disease risk, but the science surrounding this issue is inconclusive. Part of the problem is that in a typical diet survey few people accurately and consistently recall what they consumed. The problem becomes exaggerated when people underreport foods they know are less healthy for them, like sugars.

Researchers were looking for a measure of long-term sugar intake from a hair or blood sample

“We were looking for an objective biomarker that could accurately measure long-term sugar intake from a single blood or hair sample” said Diane O’Brien, in the news release, "Scientists find new tool to measure sugar consumption." O'Brien is the project leader and biologist with the UAF Center for Alaska Native Health Research at the Institute of Arctic Biology.

The biomarker O’Brien and her CANHR research group pilot-tested was the ratio of two different carbon atoms (heavy carbon 13 and light carbon 12) which are incorporated into plants during photosynthesis. The ratio, called an isotopic signature, is distinct in corn and sugar cane, which are the sources of nearly all of the sugars found in sugar-sweetened beverages.

“We used the isotopic signature of alanine an amino acid and building block of protein that essentially traps the carbon from dietary sugar so that it can be measured in the protein component of hair or blood,” O’Brien explained in the news release.

Even after foods and beverages are consumed, metabolized, transported in blood and stored in body tissues, these isotopic signatures remain largely intact

The more sugar-sweetened beverages an individual consumes, the greater alanine’s carbon isotope ratio will be. Importantly, O’Brien’s group found that alanine was uncorrelated with other foods that can contribute to elevated carbon ratios.

Although the use of isotope signatures to study food webs and diet is not new, previous efforts to accurately measure sweetener intake have not been particularly successful. The use of alanine and the technique employed by O’Brien’s group makes their findings particularly exciting.

“Even for validated and well-accepted biomarkers of diet, associations with self-reported intake are generally very weak. Our biomarker was able to explain almost half of the variation in self-reported sugar-sweetened beverage intake, which in this field is a very high level of explanatory power,” said O’Brien in the news release.

The scientists’ findings are also being used in other health and diet-related research

“Diane’s research program has provided CANHR with incredibly valuable objectively measured biomarkers of food intake,” said CANHR Director Bert Boyer, according to the news release. “These biomarkers are currently being used to help us understand the role polyunsaturated fatty acids play in disease prevention, including the modification of genetic risk.”

The tool is not without its drawbacks, caution the authors. “The gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry process we used isn’t inexpensive and or widely available,” O’Brien said in the news release. “We expect that our findings will be most useful as a calibration tool, either for self-reported dietary data or more high-throughput biomarkers of sweetener intake.”

Research is done from a genetic, dietary, and cultural-behavioral perspective

The Center for Alaska Native Health Research was established through a five-year grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The purpose of CANHR is to investigate weight, nutrition and health in Alaska Natives.

CANHR approaches this thematic focus from a genetic, dietary and cultural-behavioral perspective. The funding comes through a program for Centers of biomedical Research Excellence. This project is a partnership with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. The participants and data in this project are from the CANHR Neqem Nallunailkutaa (The Foods’ Market) study conducted in 2008-2009 in two coastal Yup’ik communities in Southwest Alaska.

Or check out what happened to the sugar beets in California, "Full episode for Fri, Sep 20, 2013." You also may wish to see, "Health Cures with False Ingredients Turn the Desperate into the defrauded."