Think You Know How Much Sugar You Consume? Think Again!

Do you know how much added sugar you eat? Unless you carefully study food labels, it’s likely you have no idea. And while sugar can delight the tastebuds, too much of it hampers good health.

How Much Is Enough?

Glucose, one type of sugar, is necessary for brain function and is used as an energy source for your body. However, once your body uses what it needs based on how many calories you burn, the remaining sugar is converted by the body and stored as fat.

“Excess sugar not only leads to weight gain and tooth decay but can contribute to other chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and more,” said Alix Slayter, clinical dietitian at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.

“Also, consuming too much sugar can mean you aren’t eating enough of the more nutrient-dense foods that your body needs like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean proteins,” said Slayter.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends consuming less than 10% of your calories per day from added sugars.

Natural vs. Added Sugars

“Many foods such as fruits, dairy products and some vegetables and grains contain sugars naturally,” explained Slayter. “For example, a cup of milk contains about 12 grams of naturally occurring sugars. If you add chocolate to that milk, that is beyond what occurs naturally.”

“Added sugars refers to products in which sugars or syrups are added to the food or beverage at the table or during manufacturing, such as in snack cakes and cola,” Slayter added.

While naturally occurring sugars do not figure into the recommended guideline, that does not mean that natural sugar is harmless in every situation, she cautions.

“Getting your sugar from natural sources is the best way to satisfy your sweet tooth because these foods may also provide vitamins, minerals and fiber that support health,” said Slayter.

“However, naturally occurring sugars can still spike glucose levels and contribute to excess calories, so be aware if you have diabetes or are concerned with weight management.”

Nutrition Labels Make Sugar Detection Easy

The best way to know whether your food or beverage contains added sugar is to read nutrition labels on the packaging.  These labels list, among other things, the amount of total sugar and added sugar in a food or beverage.

“You can see rather quickly how much sugar is in the item you are considering just by checking the label,” Slayter said.

  • Total sugar on a nutrition label refers to all the sugar in an item, including naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.
  • Added sugar on the label refers to only the sugars that were added to the product during manufacturing.

The label shows the number of grams as well as the percentage of the daily value contained in every serving of the product.

It is also important to pay attention to the serving size listed on each nutrition label.

“If the serving size is ¼ cup and you typically eat 1 cup of the food item, you will need to multiply the total sugar per serving by four to know how much sugar you are truly eating,” Slayter explained.

“In general, a product is low in sugar if it contains 5% or less of added sugar per serving.”

Watch Out for Hidden Added Sugars

Many products that don’t seem sweet can actually contain added sugar. Here are some common products that might surprise you.

  • Condiments, Sauces, Salad DressingKetchup, barbecue sauce, many salad dressings, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce and relish usually have sugar added to them, some 5 to 10 grams per tablespoon, so use them sparingly or consider making your own.

  • Pasta Sauce

    Many jars of pasta sauce contain between 6 and 12 grams of added sugar per ½ cup. That is on top of the naturally occurring sugar in tomatoes.  It is much better to make your own sauce or choose a sauce in which added sugar is only 1 or 2 grams.

  • Yogurt

    Fruit-flavored yogurts can contain 17 to 33 grams of sugar per cup, including natural sugars found in the milk. That’s similar to the amount of sugar in one scoop of ice cream. For a healthier option, opt for plain yogurt and add your own fruit.

  • Beverages

    It’s easy to blow your “sugar budget” when an eight-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar and specialty coffees add five grams of sugar per pump of syrup. Energy drinks have about 25 grams per bottle. Most fruit juices, even with no sugar added, contain at least 24 grams of sugar per cup. You’ll get more nutritional benefit from eating the actual fruit instead.

  • Cereals

    Sugar isn’t only in kids’ cereals (12 grams per serving) but could also lurk in your healthier variety, so check the labels. Watch out for instant oatmeal, too. Those convenient packets of flavored oatmeal can have more than 10 grams of sugar each. Choose plain oatmeal and add chopped fruit for a sweet and healthier option.

  • Dried Fruit, Canned Fruit

    Dried and canned fruit seem like healthy options. However, dried fruits are higher in sugar per volume than fresh fruit because the water has been removed. For example, a little box of raisins contains about 25 grams of sugar, while a ½ cup of grapes has about half that amount of sugar. When it comes to canned fruit, avoid anything with light syrup, which can add up to 27 grams of additional sugar per serving.

  • Other Common Foods

    It’s impossible to list all the foods to watch for, but a few more foods with hidden sugar include peanut butter, crackers, canned soup and non-dairy milks. Carefully read labels to find options with less sugar, or none added at all.

Choosing to know how much sugar you consume each day is the first step toward better health.

“We cannot change what we don’t know. So, we need to begin by becoming aware of what we already consume by reading labels and paying attention to serving sizes,” said Slayter. “Then, try swapping natural foods for the sugary ones. It may take a few weeks of focus and commitment, but our minds and bodies do adjust to less-sweet options.”

Salt vs. Sugar – is one worse for you than the other? Read more to find out.

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