The average American consumes 350 calories of added sugar each day. To put it in perspective, 1 teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to ~4 grams of sugar and contains 16 calories. The government has no specific recommendations for added sugars. However, the American Heart Association recommends women consume <6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar and men consume <9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar daily.
These recommendations do not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). However, food manufacturers don’t distinguish between added and natural sugars on labels. Added sugars provide no additional nutrient value and are often referred to as empty calories. Natural sugars provide other health benefits. It can be quite confusing to determine exactly how many grams of added sugar you are consuming.
The FDA has proposed several changes to the current nutrition facts label, one being to declare “added sugars” underneath “sugars” to help you understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product. This change has not been approved yet. Until this would occur, the easiest way to figure it out is to read the food label closely.
Sugar on a food label can be referred to by many names including: sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, malt, molasses, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, cane crystals, crystalline fructose, maltose, raw sugar, syrup, sucrose, granulated sugar
Why is sugar so bad? Sugar is instrumental in many disease processes including obesity, heart disease, inflammation, gout, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. It is also addictive. Sugar stimulates the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (similar to alcohol or drugs) and with continued use we develop dependency and tolerance to its effects.
We all know soda, sports drinks, cake and candy are loaded with sugar and should be limited. But what about the foods that contain hidden sugars? Here are 5 (of many) foods that you may not know contain added sugars:
2 Tablespoons of KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce contains 12 grams of sugar. (And who only uses 2 Tablespoons?!) A tiny amount of this is from the tomatoes, but the majority is from high fructose corn syrup and molasses. There are several brands, including Annie’s, that contain much less sugar or you can make your own.
Granola Bars or Protein Bars
A lot of protein bars are glorified candy bars. Clif’s Chocolate Chip Bar is just one example of this. Don’t let the "organic” line fool you; it’s still sugar. One bar contains 22 grams of sugar with ingredients such as organic brown rice syrup, chocolate chips and organic cane syrup. Opt for bars that contain natural sugars from fruit, such as Larabars.
1 container of Strawberry Banana Yoplait Yogurt contains 26 grams of sugar. While some of that is natural (from the milk), most of it comes from sugar and modified corn starch. Opt for plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit to sweeten it.
Starting your day with sugar is not ideal; you will have a sugar crash mid-morning and crave sugar the rest of the day. Cinnamon Burst Cheerios is just one example of a high sugar breakfast cereal. 1 cup contains 9 grams of sugar; including plain sugar and brown sugar syrup. Compare this to plain Cheerios which only has 1 gram of sugar per 1 cup.
Fat free and light salad dressings are notorious for adding sugar; after they remove the fat they need something to make them taste good. One example is Ken’s Light Honey Mustard Salad Dressing which has 8 grams of sugar in 2 Tablespoons. The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup and it also contains sugar and honey. Opt to make your own healthy salad dressing with vinegar and oil.