John Oliver wants the food industry to show us its peanuts

Watch "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver talk about the impact sugar has on our brains, and how we'd be better off measuring added sugars with circus peanuts.

Anthony Domanico
CNET freelancer Anthony Domanico is passionate about all kinds of gadgets and apps. When not making words for the Internet, he can be found watching Star Wars or "Doctor Who" for like the zillionth time. His other car is a Tardis.
Anthony Domanico
2 min read

Friday is Halloween, and for millions of kids (and adults), that can only mean one thing: a candy-induced coma. John Oliver, host of HBO's comedy news show "Last Week Tonight," aired a segment on Sunday that shows just how much sugar we actually consume, and what that's doing to our brains.

For example, Americans consume a staggering 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, about seven times more than we actually need. That translates to about 75 pounds of sugar per year. And why do we consume that much sugar, when research shows that it plays a key role in the obesity epidemic? The answer, it seems, is all in our heads.

Specifically, sugar activates our brain in the same way that cocaine does, according to Eric Stice, a psychologist at the Oregon Research Institute featured in Oliver's segment. This suggests that sugar is fairly addictive, leading us to eat more of it than we should. And companies are adding sugar to almost everything to make stuff sweeter and therefore more appealing to us. There's sugar in ketchup, crackers and even beef jerky.

That's why there's a new initiative by the FDA to add a category called "added sugars" to nutrition labels, though it has met stark opposition from the sugar industry. So while organizations like the National Yogurt Association and the American Beverage Association begrudgingly accept that they'll have to add this to their food labels in the near future, they've issued comments to the FDA to ensure it's measured in grams, a unit of measurement Americans don't really understand, instead of the more universal teaspoons.

Using grams doesn't sit right with Oliver, so he came up with a solution sure to bemoan both sides of the issue. What better way to measure added sugars than by comparing the level of added sugars to one of the most detested pieces of candy -- the circus peanut? Instead of labeling added sugar in grams or teaspoons, just compare the amount of added sugar to that in a circus peanut (about 5 grams). The more added sugar a product has, the more images of circus peanuts you'd need to add to the product label. Simple, right?

And, as is customary with John Oliver segments, this one features a call to action demanding that all viewers tweet food makers using the phallic hashtag #showusyourpeanuts.

John Oliver wants food makers to add pictures of circus peanuts to their labels to denote the amount of added sugars. Video screenshot by Anthony Domanico/CNET