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Hold the Sugar

handful of SugarA “sweet tooth” is something we are probably all guilty of having, to some degree.  Eating the occasional cookie or slice of pie isn’t a crime and can have a place in the American diet, if consumed in moderation.  Unfortunately, in our society there are enormous opportunities for sugary food, even in places where you’d least expect.

Sugar in American food isn’t as obvious as it once was and seems to be lurking everywhere.  Then there is the concept of “added sugars”, which may add to the confusion. Added sugar is exactly what it seems… additional sugar but with no nutritional benefit other than extra calories.  The new food label has addressed this by showing grams of added sugars and also the % Daily Value based on the serving size.  It’s important to check out the ingredient list on packaged products as well.  Sugar has numerous forms and names, including brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, lactose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maltose, and molasses.  The ingredients are listed in order of descending weight, so if sugar is a main ingredient in the product you will see it near the beginning of the ingredient list.

Is sugar bad?

Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit or milk, are not considered added sugars. Natural sugars (carbohydrates) are part of many healthy unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and milk. These foods are good and are part of an overall healthy diet.  The problem lies in the “added sugar” we often see in processed foods, even bread and yogurt can contain a large amount of additional sugar.  We all know sugar has calories and extra calories can lead to putting on extra pounds.  But, it’s not just our waistlines that may pay the price. A 2014 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association-Internal Medicine found a “significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality”.

It seems that sugar may be causing more problems than initially believed, and until recently there haven’t been any official guidelines on how much sugar is acceptable.  When the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released, this was a major factor to be addressed. A “Key Recommendation” calls for less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. The American Heart Association goes even further with a recommendation of no more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams), and 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams) for men.

Currently, on average, added sugars account for almost 270 calories per day (more than 13%) and are particularly highest among children, adolescents, and young adults.  Not surprisingly, beverages (soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, flavored water) account for 47% of all added sugars consumed in the U.S. (2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

What can we do?

Cutting down on sugary beverages such as soda, sports drinks, fruit juices, and syrupy coffee drinks is the first step in reducing our consumption of sugar.  Reading labels and ingredient lists can help you identify how much carbohydrate and added sugar are in a product.  Choose beverages with no-added sugars such as water, and limit or decrease portion sizes of grain-based and dairy desserts, sweet snacks, cakes, and candy.  Choose unsweetened canned fruits, applesauce, and yogurt with no sugar added (2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans).  The American Heart Association offers some additional Tips for Cutting Down on Sugar and ways to Sip Smarter.

With some label reading and determination we can change our consumption of sugar, reduce our waistlines, and reduce the risk of developing obesity-related chronic diseases.

Resources:

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease, American Heart Association

Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label, FDA U.S Food and Drug Administration

Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults, JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.

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