Added Sugar: What You Need to Know
Everybody is born with a sweet tooth and they could hardly be anyone who would not love to eat sweets. Even babies prefer sweeter fruits than bland vegetables and meat. This sweet tooth that we are born with, for some, becomes a life-long obsession resulting in consuming too much of sweet foods and finally adverse health problems. The actual problem is not with eating foods that are naturally sweet foods, but consuming too much of added sugar that has become an integral part of our daily food. Eating too much of sugar products can result in diabetes, and many related health complications. Many readers might be confused with the two terms that has been used in the earlier part of the article - “natural sugar” and “added sugar”. This article will deal with basic information about added sugar and their pros and cons.
The moment someone asks what is sugar? We come up with a simple answer – they are sweet, white crystals that are used to give sweet taste to the food. More technically, sugars are carbohydrates and sweetener that are added to foods and drink to provide sweet taste, texture, body, and bulk to the food. It also provides lots of calories; therefore it is also called as caloric sweetener. There are two types of sugars one that occurs naturally in the food and the other that is added to foods and drinks to make them taste sweeter.
Difference between natural and added sugar
In our diet, sugar can be either natural or added. Natural sugar is the one that is found naturally in the fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods, milk, and certain grains. Very common naturally occurring sugar is fructose in fruits, and lactose in milk and milk products.
Added sugar is the one that is added to foods or drinks during its making process to give sweet taste to the food. The sugar that is added in our kitchen also falls under added sugar products. Processed foods and drinks contain both natural sugar (fructose) and added sugar like high-fructose corn syrup. Foods having added sugars are icecream, some breakfast cereals, cookies, pastries, fruit drinks, and other processed foods.
Use of added sugar
Many must be thinking if added sugar does not provide any nutrition, then why are they added to so many foods and drinks. Added sugar does serve many other uses in food processing, they
- Contribute to the texture and structure of food
- Are very good preservatives that preserve jellies and jams
- Give bulk to ice creams
- Control crystallization
- Support fermentation process of bread and alcohol
- Maintain freshness of bread and other baked items
- Give more appealing taste to foods and drinks
- Balance the acidity in food that contains vinegar and tomatoes
Importance of limiting added sugar
The American Heart Association has surveyed and stated that on an average a person consumes about half a cup of added sugar every day. This does not include the natural sugar that we get by consuming fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Too much of sugar can result in adverse health conditions. Many people are not aware of the amount of sugar that they consume and without realizing they consume more sugar than required. Remember our body does not need sugar for proper functioning therefore limiting the amount of sugar intake is very important. Moreover, added sugar has no nutritional value, and may end up in poor nutritional supply, but contains unnecessary calories that can add up few more pounds and might result in obesity, which reduces the chance of having a healthy heart. Too much of added sugar can also result in tooth decay, increased triglycerides level, issues with controlling type-II diabetes, and reduces the level of good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein – HDL). Therefore, it is important to reduce the consumption of added sugar and include natural sugar in food. It is said that people consuming added sugar are less likely to consume healthy foods, as for instance drinking soda or added sugar beverages decreases the consumption of milk, which provides the body with calcium, proteins, and vitamins. Soda and added sugar drinks provides zero nutrition and lots of calories.
After so many discussions about consuming added sugar now the question is - how much added sugar should I consume? Unfortunately, there is no clear figure for this. Studies shows that an average American consumes about 22 teaspoons, 355 calories of added sugar every day, which is equal to the amount of sugar present in two 12 ounce can of non-diet soda plus a chocolate bar. This increase in added sugar consumption has contributed to increase in the rate of obesity and heart diseases. Therefore to minimize such complications arising from increased added sugar consumption, the American Heart Association (AHA) has published guidelines for eating added sugar. The AHA recommends, no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) of added sugar per day for women and for men no more than 9 teaspoons (155 calories) of added sugar per day.
Tips to know the amount of added sugar in food or drink
Always remember that soft drinks and sugary fruit drinks are the biggest culprit behind excess amount of added sugar. To know if a packed food contains sugar and how much sugar is present, it is important to check the nutritional fact label. But unfortunately the amount of added sugar and natural sugar are given together as total grams of sugar. Note down the amount of total sugar in a single serving. Remember that 1 gram of sugar contains 4 calories and 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon, so if the food product contains 15 grams of sugar per serving then the amount of calorie got from sugar alone is 60 per serving, excluding other ingredients. Some products have the label “sugar free” or “no added sugar”. Beware as some sugar-free products as they may contain sugar substitutes.
Added sugar can be mentioned using various names on the label. Apart from the names ending with “ose” such as fructose, maltose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose it also can be mentioned as fructose corn syrup, molasses, corn sweetener, raw sugar, cane sugar, syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrates, confectionary sugar, granulated white sugar, invert sugar, and malt syrup.
Tips to avoid extra sugar
The first step in avoiding excess added sugar in diet is to know which food contains excess amount of added sugar in it. Products that contain high amount of added sugar in it are sugary drinks like soft drinks, sports drink, and fruit drinks, non-diet soda, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, sweetened milk, dairy products, ice-cream, sweetened yogurt, sugar sweetened cereals, honey-nut waffles, and cinnamon toast.
Take white sugar, brown sugar, syrup, honey, and molasses out of mind. Few tips to avoid consuming excess sugar are
- Stop eating all foods and beverages that contain added sugar in it
- Substitute sugar with artificial sweetener
- Use only sugar-free or low-caloric beverages
- Eat fresh fruits or fruits canned in water
- Avoid fruits canned in syrup
- Add fresh fruits like banana, cherries, strawberries or dried fruits like raisins or apricot to cereals or oat meals instead of sugar
- Cut the sugar content by half or one-third in baking items like cake and cookies
- Can use extracts of almond, vanilla, orange or lemon instead of sugar
- Use equal amount of unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar
- Eat healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, poultry, and fish
- Replace low-fat milk for sweetened soda and beverages
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks
- Avoid out processed food that are not only rich in added sugar but also rich in fat and sodium
- Have fresh fruits or sweet potatoes for dessert
- Eat whole grain bread and pasta
- Learn the names of all sugar and to read the label on food products
- Choose low-sugar jam, jellies, and preserves
- Avoid ice-cream and sweetened yogurt as dessert
- Do not prefer blended coffee with flavored syrup and sweet toppings
Besides the fact that consuming too much of sugary food leads to many health problems, sugary foods also contribute to nutritional deficiency, which is required for healthy functioning of the body. It is very important to make the calorie consumption per day count. After all, being healthy is a balancing act , where we supply the body with all necessary nutrients and the body reciprocates by functioning well, fighting infection, and by providing energy for every day activity. If we do not keep up our end of act by giving the body with essential nutrients then we will find our self on the downward stroke of health and wellness.