Added sugar is a pretty hot topic these days–and it should be. More than half of Americans consume too much added sugar. Of that population, they each intake a whopping 105 grams every day, on average¹. That’s the equivalent of over half a cup of granulated sugar. Daily! This is very concerning considering how many health conditions (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.) are linked to high intakes of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to just 25 grams/day (6 teaspoons) for women and 38 grams/day (9 teaspoons) for men². Children’s limits are even lower at 12-25 grams/day, depending on their age.
As someone who is equally passionate about both creating delicious food and nutrition, I feel it’s important to clarify the facts when it comes to added sugar. Namely, what added sugar actually is. Unfortunately, I’ve come across too many recipes on Pinterest that claim they contain “no added sugar” or are even “sugar free.” But, upon reading through their recipe’s ingredients, I found they used honey or some other sweetener. So, I felt that a post like this could be helpful to clarify these misconceptions.
What is added sugar?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Added sugars are [sugars or sweeteners] either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such.³” So this includes everything from the most obvious cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup to the lesser known products such as maltodextrin and panocha. At least 61 different sugars have been listed on nutrition labels. Thankfully, by the year 2021, all packaged foods will have complied with the revised nutrition labeling requirements to include added sugars in addition to total sugars on their labels. This will make it much easier for consumers to make informed choices when trying to limit their added sugar intakes.
It is important to note that some sugars, such as maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar, etc., that are commonly recognized as being more “healthy” and “natural,” are also categorized as added sugars. Despite the fact that they may be less refined, raw, or even contain antioxidants, minerals, or other health promoting agents, they are still inherently sugar and should be limited in the diet.
What Foods Contain Added Sugar?
The majority of packaged foods found in supermarkets contain added sugars. This is why we’re repeatedly advised to avoid these foods as much as practically possible. The products contributing the most added sugars to our diets include sugar-sweetened beverages (ex. sodas, energy drinks) and bakery items (ex. cookies, cakes, etc.) and candy. However, many foods often touted as “health foods” also contain high amounts of added sugars; flavored yogurts, energy bars and whole-grain cereals are examples of these. Also, keep a close eye on items such as pasta sauces, salad dressings and condiments.
Naturally Occurring Sugars
These refer to sugars found naturally in foods, such as those found in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). When you consume sugar this way, your body is able to regulate its absorption in such a way that doesn’t cause such a spike in blood sugar levels. For instance, with fruits, fiber helps perform this task. You also reap the benefits of all the other healthy nutrients present in the food, such as various vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
Sugar Alcohols, Artificial and Low-Calorie Sweeteners
These include non-caloric sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K, advantage, saccharin, neotame and stevia) and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, etc.), which contain fewer calories per gram than sugar. These alternatives are often found in chewing gums, frozen desserts and products labeled “sugar free” or “reduced sugar.”
Can Sugars Be Part of a Healthy Diet?
Yes! And thank goodness for that! I enjoy a sweet treat as much as the next gal, but it is important that treats remain limited in our overall diet. Here are some tips for cutting down on added sugars without depriving yourself of some indulgence:
Making Lasting Lifestyle Change
As with making any major dietary change, cutting back on sugar is no joke. It’s hard. Sugar is a powerful force that can have strong holds on us both mentally and physically. In fact, studies have even classified it as addictive. So, my advice would be to gradually wean yourself to avoid the withdrawal headaches and cravings. That will give you a better shot at making a lasting lifestyle change as opposed to trying to quit cold turkey. If you have slip ups, you haven’t failed. Life is all about ups and downs. As long as we don’t give up and keep trying, we are winning. It’s all about progress!
I hope you have found some helpful info here. I would be happy to try and answer any questions you might have. Either leave a comment, or send me an email.
*Disclaimer: The information provided above is intended for general purposes only and is not a replacement for medical or nutritional counseling. Please seek advice from a qualified professional for any health condition.