High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fructose, Sucrose….While it may go by many names with slightly varying chemical structures, these are all types of SUGAR. Sugar is present in almost every food we consume, however “added sugars” are of most concern when it comes to your health. The term “Added Sugars” refers to “any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).” These sugars are present only to enhance flavor and add no nutrient value to food. Overconsumption of these types of sugars could lead to a host of health problems including Type II Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 6 teaspoons (25g) of added sugar for women, and no more than 9 teaspoons (37.5g) of added sugars for men per day*. To put this in perspective, a 12oz. can of Coca Cola contains 39g of added sugar.
Strategies for limiting your sugar intake each day:
- Offer candy as a special treat. Most candy is made up almost entirely of added sugar. Treats are great once in a while, but having candy in the house on a regular basis could mean your kids (or you!) are eating much more of it than you should. Save the sweets for a special treat like a birthday party or a night at the movies.
- Limit sugary beverages including soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks and alcohol. As mentioned above, a single serve can of Coca-Cola contains about 1.5 times the recommended amount of added sugar for woman (and that’s the MAXIMUM we should be consuming!) What many people also may not realize is that “fruit” drinks and energy drinks like Capri Sun or Gatorade can contribute just as much processed sugar (and empty calories) to your diet. Swap these beverages for water, sparkling water with lemon, unsweetened tea or eat a piece of whole fruit instead of drinking the juice.
- Read labels carefully for serving size, sugar content & ingredients. Refer to the list of “sugar terms” above. If any of these words are listed in the first 5 ingredients of a product, there is probably a better option available. If you’re unsure whether the sugar in a product is natural or added, try comparing the flavored variety of the food/beverage to the plain. For example, the “plain” variety of Fage Greek Yogurt contains 7g of sugar and does not list any sugars in the ingredients, whereas their “Fruyo” Blueberry flavored yogurt contains 20g of sugar per serving and lists “cane sugar” as the third major ingredient. That means that 13g of the sugar in the blueberry yogurt is added cane sugar.
- Beware of foods with “hidden” sugar. Sometimes added sugars are present in foods you wouldn’t expect like bread, pasta sauces, salad dressings and prepared soups. Be sure to check the ingredients list as well as the nutrition facts label to make sure you’re not consuming these sugars without realizing it.
- Avoid “low-fat” or “fat free” versions of foods. These foods are usually higher in sugar to compensate for the missing flavor and mouthfeel of fat. A better option? Have a smaller portion of the “real”, full-fat version of the food. Salad dressings are the most common culprit of this offense. If oil & vinegar isn’t your thing, try having 1-2 Tbsp of the full-fat versions of creamy dressings, and add volume with plain greek yogurt, hummus, or balsamic vinegar.
- Reduce the amount of sugar you add to hot drinks like coffee and tea and steer clear of flavored coffee drinks. Try to cut back on the amount of sugar, honey, or other caloric sweeteners you use in your daily cup of joe. Do this gradually to give your palate time to adjust to the change in taste. Try using other spices like cinnamon or vanilla extract to add some flavor without the calories. Also, keep in mind that beverages at your favorite coffee shop like mochas, flavored lattes and blended drinks, have tons of added sugar making them calorie-bombs!
The danger of consuming added sugar is a hot topic and there are many “cleanses” that focus on entirely eliminating refined sugar from the diet. That approach seems unrealistic in today’s food world, but perhaps using some of the strategies above, you can manage your family’s intake and at least avoid over-consumption on a daily basis.