If you read the nutrition facts label when you shop, you’ve probably noticed one thing many packaged foods have in common – lots of added sugar! Desserts and delis aside, common, seemingly healthy household foods like breads, cereals, sauces, and oatmeal are loaded with surprising amounts of sugar. What should the average consumer know about sugar and how do we arm ourselves to reduce this often over-consumed ingredient?
Added sugars are those added during food processing and can include table sugar, sugar in syrups and honey, and sugars in concentrated fruit and vegetable juices. Foods with added sugars should not be confused with foods with natural sugars such as regular milk, fresh fruit and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and beets. These foods that naturally contain sugar are fine, and many have inherent health benefits. However, eating a diet high in excess sugar can contribute to health problems such as heart disease, inflammation, unintentional weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease.
So what does moderate added sugar intake look like? It is recommended that women keep added sugar to no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day, and men, who typically have a higher average daily calorie requirement, limit added sugar to 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day. day. Food and drinks with added sugar should not be served to children under two years of age.
Unless you’re eating mostly whole foods and homemade foods with no added sugars, you’re probably getting enough sugar. Common sources of added sugar include sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and teas, as well as ready-to-eat cereals, yoghurts, dried fruit, baked goods and condiments such as barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce and salad dressing.
One of the best tools to help reduce your added sugar intake is the nutrition facts label, which can help decipher a product’s sugar content per serving. Note that every 4 grams of added sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. So a kids’ breakfast cereal with 12 grams of added sugar has the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Foods with sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients are usually high in sugar. However, sugar can go by many names, including corn syrup, invert sugar, malt sugar, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, sucrose, and molasses, to name a few.
Food manufacturers have gotten creative, often using more than one type of sugar source in products. So a granola bar, for example, may list sugar as the third ingredient, but may also list fruit juice concentrate and brown rice syrup further down the ingredient list. When all sugar sources are added, sugar can be the predominant ingredient, which can mislead consumers.
Here are some tips to reduce your added sugar intake:
- Swap sugar-sweetened beverages for sugar-free and low-sugar alternatives, such as flavored water, unsweetened tea, fruit and herbal infused water, low-sugar prebiotic sodas, and coconut water.
- Look for products without added sugar. For jarred and canned fruits, choose those in water or natural juice instead of syrups.
- For oatmeal, go with plain unsweetened oats and then flavor it with no-added-sugar ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla extract, pumpkin spice, and fresh fruit.
- Make your own condiments and sauces with no added sugar.
- Limit highly processed packaged snacks and desserts, which are likely to be among the highest in added sugar.
- Use the nutrition facts label and ingredients list to make informed choices when buying packaged foods.
- Eat whole foods like hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, popcorn, nuts and seeds.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite desserts and treats, you may be consuming more sugar than you know from hidden sources. By taking control and making informed food choices, you can significantly reduce your added sugar intake for better health.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian providing nutritional counseling and consultation to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].