Written By Kailey Donovan, Registered Dietitian
It is no secret that we all love the occasional cookie, brownie and ice cream. Clearly those food items contain added sugars, but what about the various other food items that contain an unnecessary amount of added sugar? Many people are not aware that basic pantry staples are huge culprits of added sugar. Items such as ketchup, pasta sauce, salad dressing, cereal, granola bars, the list goes on.
Sugar can be classified into two categories: “naturally occurring” and “added” sugar. Naturally occurring sugars are those found naturally in foods, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products. While fruits and vegetables contain sugar, they also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, which are essential to health. Added sugars are defined as sugars and syrups added to foods during preparation, processing, or added at the table.
How much sugar is too much?
There are several different recommendations regarding how much added sugar one should consume per day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women. No more than 36 grams or 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for men. When grocery shopping remember that 1 teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4 grams. To calculate the number of teaspoons in a product divide the amount of sugar in grams listed on the back by 4.
Side effects of too much sugar:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- Unstable blood sugar/insulin resistance
- Cravings for more sugar
- Suppressed immune system
- Tooth decay
Added sugar vs. sugar from fruit
Added sugar and naturally occurring sugar (from fruit) is metabolized the same way in the body. However, foods containing added sugar are usually calorically dense and low in vital nutrients making them “empty calories”. In addition to naturally occurring sugar, fruits contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. The fiber found in a WHOLE piece of fruit is slower to digest, will keep you fuller for longer and will stabilize your blood sugar. Juicing is a very popular trend right now, however it does take most of the fiber out of the fruit.
How to reduce added sugar in your diet:
- Always read the sugar content on the nutrition facts panel. Fortunately, all nutrition facts panel will soon require the food company to list added sugars separately.
- Read the ingredient list. If sugar (or an alternative name for sugar) is listed in the first few ingredients, that is a red flag that there is a high amount of added sugar in that product. Examples of alternative names for sugar include brown rice syrup, glucose, fructose, raw cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and agave nectar… to name a few.
- Fill your diet with fruits and vegetables that contain naturally occurring sugars, as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Pair your fruit with protein or a healthy fat to help stabilize blood sugar. For example, an apple with a handful of almonds or a hard-boiled egg.
- Watch your sugar intake at breakfast. Cereals, pancakes, on the go granola bars and yogurt can be huge culprits of added sugar.
- Don’t drink your calories. Limit intake of sodas, sugary drinks, coffee with sweetener and sports drinks.
- Make your own salad dressing with olive oil, vinegar and Italian seasoning!
- Consume more fiber to help you stay fuller longer.
How Much is Too Much? Retrieved from http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption/#.Wd7k4VtSyUk
Hidden Sugar Foods to Avoid & Healthier Alternatives. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/hidden-sugar-foods/.
Added Sugars. Retrieved From http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Added-Sugars_UCM_305858_Article.jsp#.Wdvuj1dlmu4.
O’Connor, A (2016). How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html.
Johnson, Rachel K. et al. Weighing in on Added Sugars and Health. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 110 , Issue 9 , 1296 – 1299.