By Eleanor Yang Su, The Center for Investigative Reporting
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.
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.
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 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 said. The most common are cookies, cakes and brownies, some of which are counted as grain requirements. Other popular options are fruit with gelatin, ice cream and pudding. Continue reading