A new study from the Monell Center analyzed nearly 400,000 reviews for food products posted on Amazon over a 10-year period. The big takeaway? Many people find modern manufactured foods to be too sweet.
In fact, critiques of a product being too sweet appeared 25 times as often as critiques of a product being under-sweetened. Nearly one percent of all product reviews analyzed included the exact phrase “too sweet”. From Science Daily:
“This is the first study of this scale to study food choice beyond the artificial constraints of the laboratory,” said study lead author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioral geneticist at Monell. “Sweet was the most frequently mentioned taste quality and the reviewers definitively told us that human food is over-sweetened.”
The study used data posted on an open-source data science site to examine 393,568 unique food reviews of 67,553 products posted by 256,043 Amazon customers over a 10-year period. Using a sophisticated statistical modeling program to identify words related to taste, texture, odor, spiciness, cost, health, and customer service, the scientists computed the number of reviews that mentioned each of these categories.
Remember, these are food products available on Amazon, so we’re overwhelmingly talking about highly processed foods—not fresh blueberries, broccoli or salmon. Yes, Amazon has begun to offer such products in the last couple years through expanding services, but only in a select few locations.
Perhaps the No. 1 driver of obesity in America is our incredible overconsumption of added sugar. Healthline calls added sugar “the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.” Added sugars differ from naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruits and veggies (which are absolutely fine for you in reasonable doses) in that they’re added by manufacturers during the production process. Added sugar lurks everywhere in the modern American diet, appearing in significant amounts not just in the usual suspects like cookies and cakes, but also in things like salad dressings, yogurts, sauces and “healthy” snack bars.
Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even cancer. Foods high in added sugar are typically low in overall nutrients, making them little more than empty calories. The FDA states that “scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.”
Ten percent of your daily calories from added sugar sounds like a lot, but it’s frighteningly easy to surpass that total if you’re making the wrong choices. The average American consumes roughly 80 grams of added sugar per day, well beyond the 37.5 daily grams for men and 25 daily grams for women the American Heart Association recommends as a max limit. Our body has no need for added sugar, and the less you eat of it, the better off you’ll likely be.
But how has added sugar systemically infiltrated the American diet so thoroughly? Added sugar does have some convenient practical applications, such as acting as a preservative and bulking agent, but it is largely used as a cheap way to make things taste better. It also has addictive qualities, leading consumers to eat foods quicker and buy more of them. And for decades, those with interest in food manufacturers purchasing and utilizing large quantities of sugar have obstructed and influenced the research around it. From the New York Times:
The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead…Last year, an article in The New York Times revealed that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity. In June, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.
Now, there’s proof that a good chunk of Americans find many highly processed foods too sweet. Will it lead food manufacturers to change their ways? It certainly would have a huge impact on our nation’s health. But dollars often speak louder than words, and until consumers stop consistently buying processed foods stuffed with sugar, you can bet they’re going to stick around.
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