Sugar is hard to avoid. It’s in everything from sodas and juices to salad dressings and bread. But how much is too much when it comes to added sugars? If you’re looking to cut back for health reasons, it can be tricky to know where hidden sugars lurk.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men. Going over this amount can lead to weight gain, increased disease risk, and other problems.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover where added sugars hide in your food, how to spot them on nutrition labels, the health impacts of too much sugar, and tips for cutting back on your intake.
What Are Added Sugars?
Added sugars are exactly what they sound like – sugars that are added to foods and beverages during their processing or preparation. These are not the naturally occurring sugars that are found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Instead, added sugars are the sweeteners that are added to foods to enhance their taste or extend their shelf life.
Naturally Occurring vs. Added
It’s important to understand the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. These sugars come with essential nutrients and fiber, which help slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
On the other hand, added sugars are often stripped of these nutrients and fiber, making them empty calories that provide little to no nutritional value.
Common Types of Added Sugars
There are many different types of added sugars that you may come across on ingredient labels. Some common examples include:
- White sugar
- Brown sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn syrup
- Maple syrup
These added sugars can be found in a wide range of products, from sugary beverages and desserts to processed snacks and even savory foods like ketchup and salad dressings.
Why Are They Added to Foods?
Added sugars are added to foods for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they enhance the flavor of foods, making them more enjoyable to eat. They also contribute to the texture and appearance of certain products, such as baked goods and ice creams.
Additionally, added sugars can act as preservatives, helping to extend the shelf life of processed foods.
However, it’s important to note that consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can have negative effects on our health. High sugar intake has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
It’s recommended to limit the consumption of added sugars and opt for naturally sweet foods whenever possible.
Health Impacts of Too Much Added Sugar
Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can have serious consequences for your health. From weight gain to tooth decay, here are some of the major health impacts associated with consuming too much added sugar:
Eating foods high in added sugars can lead to weight gain and obesity. These sugary treats are often packed with empty calories, providing little to no nutritional value. The body quickly digests and absorbs the sugars, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels.
This results in an increase in insulin production, which can lead to fat storage. Over time, consistently consuming excess sugar can contribute to weight gain and even obesity.
Type 2 Diabetes
Excessive sugar consumption is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. When we consume too much sugar, it puts a strain on our body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body becomes less responsive to insulin.
Insulin resistance is a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Consuming too much added sugar has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. A high-sugar diet can raise blood pressure, increase triglyceride levels, and lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
These factors contribute to the development of heart disease and can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Fatty Liver Disease
Excessive sugar intake can also contribute to the development of fatty liver disease. When we consume too much sugar, the liver metabolizes it into fat. Over time, this can lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver, which can cause inflammation and damage to liver cells.
This condition, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is becoming increasingly common and can lead to serious liver problems if left untreated.
While the direct link between sugar and cancer is still being studied, there is evidence to suggest that excessive sugar consumption may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. A high-sugar diet can contribute to obesity, which is a known risk factor for various types of cancer.
Additionally, sugar can fuel the growth and proliferation of cancer cells, making it important to limit sugar intake for overall cancer prevention.
One of the most well-known impacts of sugar on health is its role in tooth decay. When we consume sugary foods and drinks, the bacteria in our mouth feed on the sugar and produce acids that attack the tooth enamel. Over time, this can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Limiting sugar intake and practicing good oral hygiene are essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
It’s important to note that the health impacts of added sugars can vary depending on the individual and their overall diet and lifestyle. However, reducing sugar intake and opting for healthier alternatives can have numerous benefits for overall health and well-being.
How to Identify Added Sugars on Food Labels
Look at the Ingredients List
One of the most important steps in identifying added sugars on food labels is to carefully examine the ingredients list. Added sugars can go by many different names, so it’s crucial to be familiar with the various terms used by manufacturers.
Some common names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and honey.
When reading the ingredients list, keep in mind that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If you see one or more types of added sugars listed within the first few ingredients, it’s a good indication that the product contains a significant amount of added sugars.
It’s also worth noting that ingredients ending in “-ose” are usually sugars. So, if you come across ingredients like dextrose, maltose, or lactose, it’s likely that they are added sugars as well.
Check the Nutrition Facts Panel
The nutrition facts panel is another valuable resource when it comes to identifying added sugars. In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a new rule requiring food manufacturers to include a separate line for “Added Sugars” on the nutrition facts panel.
This new addition makes it easier for consumers to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Keep in mind that the daily recommended limit for added sugars is 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men, according to the American Heart Association.
So, be mindful of the amount of added sugars listed on the nutrition facts panel and compare it to these recommended limits.
Additionally, pay attention to the serving size listed on the nutrition facts panel. Sometimes, a product may seem low in added sugars, but the serving size is smaller than what you would typically consume.
It’s important to consider the actual amount of added sugars you would consume in a realistic serving size.
Beware of Health Halos
When it comes to identifying added sugars, it’s crucial to be aware of the concept of “health halos.” Health halos refer to the perception that certain foods are healthier than they actually are. Some products may be marketed as “natural,” “organic,” or “low-fat,” but can still contain significant amounts of added sugars.
Don’t be fooled by attractive packaging or buzzwords. Always remember to check the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel to get a clear understanding of the amount of added sugars in a product. It’s important to make informed choices and not let the allure of a health halo influence your decision.
For more information on added sugars and their impact on health, you can visit the American Heart Association website. They provide valuable resources and guidelines to help individuals make healthier choices and reduce their intake of added sugars.
Major Sources of Added Sugars
Sodas and Fruit Drinks
One of the major sources of added sugars in our diet is sodas and fruit drinks. These sugary beverages not only provide empty calories but also contribute to a host of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
A single can of soda can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar, which far exceeds the recommended daily limit of added sugars for adults. Fruit drinks, even those labeled as “100% fruit juice,” often contain added sugars to enhance the taste.
It is important to be mindful of the sugar content in these drinks and opt for healthier alternatives like water or unsweetened beverages.
Candy and Desserts
Candy and desserts are another significant source of added sugars in our diet. These sweet treats may be tempting and satisfying in the moment, but consuming excessive amounts of sugar from candies, cookies, cakes, and ice cream can have detrimental effects on our health.
It is crucial to limit our intake of these sugary indulgences and opt for healthier alternatives like fresh fruits or homemade treats using natural sweeteners.
Baked goods such as pastries, muffins, and doughnuts are often loaded with added sugars. These delicious treats may provide a temporary burst of energy and pleasure, but the high sugar content can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
When consuming baked goods, it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes and choose options that are lower in added sugars or consider making healthier versions at home.
Many breakfast cereals marketed as “healthy” options are actually packed with added sugars. These cereals may seem like a convenient and quick breakfast choice, but the excessive sugar content can contribute to energy crashes and cravings later in the day.
It is advisable to read the nutrition labels carefully and opt for cereals with lower sugar content or choose whole foods like oatmeal or eggs for a healthier start to the day.
Flavored yogurts, although often perceived as a healthy snack, can be a hidden source of added sugars. The fruit-flavored varieties available in stores may contain significant amounts of added sugars to enhance their taste.
It is recommended to opt for plain or Greek yogurt and add natural sweeteners like fresh fruits or a drizzle of honey for flavor.
Condiments and Sauces
Condiments and sauces, such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings, can also contribute to our daily intake of added sugars. While these may seem like small additions to our meals, they can add up quickly.
It’s important to read the labels and choose options that are lower in added sugars or consider making homemade versions to have better control over the ingredients.
Tips for Cutting Back on Added Sugars
Drink More Water
One of the easiest ways to cut back on added sugars is to drink more water. Not only is water essential for overall health, but it can also help to quench your thirst without adding any extra sugar to your diet.
Try carrying a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day to ensure you stay hydrated. If you find plain water boring, try infusing it with fruits like lemon, cucumber, or berries for a hint of natural flavor.
Choose Unsweetened Versions
When shopping for food and beverages, opt for unsweetened versions whenever possible. This can apply to everything from yogurt to cereal to beverages like iced tea or almond milk. By choosing unsweetened options, you take control of the amount of sugar you consume.
Keep in mind that even products labeled as “healthy” or “low-fat” can still contain high levels of added sugars, so always check the ingredient list.
Eat More Whole Foods
Choosing whole foods over processed foods is another effective way to reduce your intake of added sugars. Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, are naturally low in added sugars and provide essential nutrients for your body.
Incorporate more whole foods into your meals and snacks to promote a balanced diet and minimize your sugar consumption.
Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods are notorious for their high sugar content. These items often include packaged snacks, sugary cereals, soda, and sweetened beverages. By limiting your intake of processed foods, you can significantly reduce your sugar intake.
Instead, opt for homemade meals and snacks using fresh ingredients whenever possible. Not only will this help you cut back on added sugars, but it can also improve the overall nutritional value of your diet.
Read Labels Carefully
When grocery shopping, make it a habit to read labels carefully. Pay attention to the sugar content listed in the nutrition facts. Keep in mind that sugar can go by many names, such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, and dextrose.
By familiarizing yourself with these different names, you can better identify hidden sources of added sugars in the foods you consume.
Satisfy Cravings with Fruit
Instead of reaching for sugary snacks or desserts, try satisfying your sweet tooth with fresh fruit. Fruit contains natural sugars, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for your health. Plus, the natural sweetness of fruit can help curb cravings for processed sweets.
Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter or pack sliced fruit as a convenient and nutritious snack.
Limiting your intake of added sugars is an important step for supporting overall health. While it takes some extra effort to spot sneaky sources, the benefits for your waistline, dental health, disease risk and beyond make it well worth it.
Aim to keep added sugars below the recommended daily limits, and complement your diet with plenty of nourishing whole foods. Your taste buds will adjust over time as you wean off the sweet stuff. Small steps to cut back on added sugars can add up to big improvements in your well-being.