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Sticky Situation: Detecting Added Sugars

Posted Monday, July 23, 2012, at 9:03 AM

How much added sugar do you consume? If you're an average American, you consume around 24 teaspoons per day--about a cup and 384 calories. To burn that much energy, most people would need to run three to four miles! This added sugar, while making your food and drink sweeter, may be inflaming your body and brain.

To decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (3 tablespoons) of added sugar each day, women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons) each day, and children consume no more than 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) each day.

You can find added sugar in obvious places, like ice cream, cookies, and sweet tea; but it's also in unexpected places, like cereal bars, multi-vitamins, and fat-free salad dressings. Other places to find added sugar include some condiments, yogurts, cereals, canned beans, tomato products, canned fruits, canned soups, frozen fruits, breads, crackers, flavored creamers, granola bars, sports drinks, and sodas.

Be sure to read every food label--you never know what you'll find. If you see a number after "sugars" in the Nutrition Facts, added sugar may be present. Every 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon. Other signals can be found in the ingredients list. But don't just look for sugar--"sugar" goes by over 50 ingredient names.

If sugar, honey, molasses, syrup, or anything ending in -ose or -ase is listed in the ingredients, the product contains added sugar. And if 50 aliases aren't enough, the word sugar rarely means pure cane sugar these days. If the label doesn't specifically say "pure cane sugar," the source may be genetically modified sugar beets. One needs to call the food company to know for sure.

When reading food labels, read the entire list of ingredients. Food companies know that most consumers read only the first few ingredients. In response, many processors now move "sugar" further down the list with a few tricks.

Because ingredients are listed in order of weight (greatest to least), using multiple types of sugar reduces the weight of each type. As a result, these added sugars move down the list of ingredients, tricking consumers into believing there's not much added sugar. So be sure to cross reference the ingredients against the total sugars in the Nutrition Facts section.

Here's where the situation gets sticky. Some real foods have naturally occurring sugar. But processors sometimes add sugars to make the foods un-naturally sweeter. In these cases, it may be difficult to figure out the amount of sugar added. Below is a cheat sheet to help. Anything more than the amount listed is likely added sugar.

* 8 oz of milk -- 12 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 6 oz of plain yogurt -- 12 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 1 cup of Greek yogurt -- 8 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 8 oz of 100% fruit juice -- 20-30 grams naturally occurring sugar

* cup of corn -- 7 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 100 grams (3.5 oz) potato -- 1 gram naturally occurring sugar

* cup of uncooked peas -- 4 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 1 oz wheat and other grains -- 0-1 grams naturally occurring sugar

* cup cooked beans -- 0-1 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 1 tablespoon catsup -- 2 grams naturally occurring sugar

* 1 cup non-starchy vegetables (green beans, broccoli, leafy greens, mushrooms) -- 0-3 grams of naturally occurring sugar

There is no American Heart Association or USDA recommendation regarding the amount of naturally occurring sugar to consume. However, let's look at 100% fruit juice. Ounce per ounce, the amount of sugar in 100% fruit juice is similar to the amount of sugar in a regular soda. As a result, fruit juices can spike blood sugar levels as much as soda. Over time, these spikes in blood sugar can wear out the pancreas, leading to insulin resistance and eventually Type 2 diabetes. In addition, juice calories are more likely to end up stored as fat. For these reasons, limit fruit juice consumption to 8 oz per day; 4 oz would be even better. Better yet, eat the whole fruit instead of just the juice. You get more phytonutrients (powerful disease fighting plant nutrients) and the fiber will slow digestion, reducing the impact on blood sugar levels.fiber

will to slow digestion, reducing the impact on blood sugar levels.

Does a little sugar hurt? In moderation, most people can work a little sugar, juice, or birthday cake into a balanced diet. On the other hand, it's certainly fine to avoid added sugars. Bottom line, make sure you know when you're consuming added sugar and realize that fat-free sugar does not equal less body fat.

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