It seems like everywhere you look, someone is talking about added sugars. But it's just sugar, right? What's the big deal? Manufacturers are adding sugar in excessive amounts, and sometimes in products you wouldn't expect sugar, which takes a toll on our health. Here's all you need to know about this much buzzed about topic.
What are "added sugars" anyway?
Natural sugars are made up of carbohydrates fructose and glucose and your body uses them for energy, just like refined sugar. This can lead people to believe that foods with naturally occurring sugar, like fruit, should be cut out of their diets.
The main difference between natural and refined sugar is the packaging. Foods that contain natural sugar, like fruit, also are packed with fiber, which slows down the digestion of sugar. They are also filled with other nutrients that improve your health like water, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phtytonutrients. Dairy also contains the sugar lactose, but it is also high in protein, which slows down digestion.
Why are "added sugars" so bad for you?
Refined sugar provides energy - or calories - like natural sugar, but it is stripped of the healthy nutrients found with natural sugar. This is why refined sugar provides “empty calories” with no nutritional benefit.
Refined sugars are added to many foods and drinks, usually as high fructose corn syrup. They tend to be in foods that are easy to eat large quantities of such as soda, fruit juice, breakfast cereals, candy, cookies, cakes and other desserts, increasing the risk of weight gain and leading to other health problems.
Here's the other kicker. When you eat a piece of cake you expect to be eating a hearty dose of sugar, but added sugars are also hidden in many common foods like ketchup, bread, nut butters and pasta sauce. It’s estimated that Americans typically eat 22 teaspoons, or 355 calories, of added sugars a day. That's a LOT of extra calories each day that have no other nutrients, and you may not even realize they're in your diet.
What health problems do added sugars cause?
Refined sugars provide empty calories, typically in large amounts which can lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other health problems. Refined sugars, since they lack fiber, are broken down quickly, causing insulin and blood sugar levels to surge quickly and then plummet. This can cause energy levels to drop, making you feel sluggish and hungry. Over time these quick changes in sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
How do you know if a food has added sugars?
Always check out the nutrition label to see how much sugar and fiber is in a food. When reading the ingredients list, avoid any food that has sugar as the first or second ingredient. Here’s where things get tricky. To avoid having “sugar” listed early in the ingredients list, some food manufacturers will list multiple forms of sugar on the list individually, making it harder to know the exact amount of added sugars.
Common types of added sugars are:
Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, cane sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, malt syrup, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, and nectars.
How can I avoid added sugars?
Choosing whole, unprocessed foods is a great way to ensure that added sugars are not added to your diet. Most of your shopping cart should be from the perimeter of the store, where most unpackaged goods like dairy, fruits and veggies are. When buying packaged goods, always check your labels. In general, the less ingredients the better!
The American Heart Association suggests aiming for only 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day for most women and no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories of added sugar a day for most men.
The FDA is currently working on adding a special line for “added sugars” on the nutrition label.