The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar a day—well over the limit of six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men recommended by the American Heart Association. And when we are eating foods that we think are healthy or don’t expect to contain added sugar, we are consuming way more than we should. Added sugar can be found in over 70% of packaged food.
Weight gain and an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes are commonly-known side effects of consuming too much sugar. But it also increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and premature aging.
It even affects your mood and behavior. A high-sugar diet is linked to depression, saps your energy, decreases your body’s ability to regulate hunger and count calories, and can quickly turn into a trigger-food keeping you addicted.
While it’s difficult to steer clear of the obviously sugar-laden foods like candy, cookies, and ice cream, it can be even harder to recognize the sneaky sources of added sugar that are having a major impact on your health. By educating yourself and shopping mindfully, you can reduce your consumption of sugar—along with your risk of disease.
Read Labels. Some sugar bomb culprits are unlikely suspects. Who expects a savory pasta sauce, tangy salad dressing, or whole grain bread to be loaded with sugar? Once you start reading nutrition labels closely, you’ll be surprised at how many packaged foods contain a sweetener. Though food labels are changing to specifically call out added sugar, many products haven’t yet adopted the new rules and don’t differentiate between sugar that is naturally occurring (as in fruit or milk) and what has been added. To help determine if a product contains added sugar, read the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of prevalence, so if sugar or one of its aliases is near the top, you’ll know it’s a major component. Also check the Nutrition Facts label to ensure natural sugars are eight grams or less.
Recognize Sugar’s Names. Listed below you’ll see 61 names for sugar, which is why it’s so important to check ingredients. No matter how healthy or natural a name may sound, it’s still bad for your health. A quick way to identify hidden sugars is to look for any word or phrase containing “sugar,” “syrup,” or “-ose,” but it’s important to recognize not every source can be identified that way (think honey, molasses, and sorghum, just to name a few). ALWAYS look up any ingredient you don’t recognize.
Agave nectar Barbados sugar Barley malt Barley malt syrup Beet sugar Brown sugar Buttered syrup Cane juice Cane juice crystals Cane sugar Caramel Carob syrup Castor sugar Coconut palm sugar Coconut sugar Confectioner’s sugar Corn sweetener Corn syrup Corn syrup solids Date sugar Dehydrated cane juice Demerara sugar Dextrin Dextrose Evaporated cane juice Free-flowing brown sugars Fructose Fruit juice Fruit juice concentrate Glucose Glucose solids Golden sugar Golden syrup Grape sugar HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup) Honey Icing sugar Invert sugar Malt syrup Maltodextrin Malitol Maltose Mannose Maple syrup Molasses Muscovado Palm sugar Panocha Powdered sugar Raw sugar Refiner’s syrup Rice syrup Saccharose Sorghum Syrup Sucrose Sugar (granulated) Sweet Sorghum Syrup Treacle Turbinado sugar Yellow sugar
Question Virtues. Just because a product is free of fat or high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Fat-free products often up their sugar content to enhance flavor, and high-fructose corn syrup is commonly replaced by another sweetener or even by its components FRUCTOSE and CORN SYRUP—both sugar. Fructose is processed in the liver. When extracted from its natural sources, like fruit, fructose is particularly harmful to your health.
Buy Unsweetened. While nut butters and milks can be positive additions to your diet, it’s important to read labels to make sure that they don’t contain added sugar. The same goes for protein powders, dried fruit, granola, salad dressings, and oatmeal. Read your labels and make sure there are no hidden sugars, and that natural sugars are eight grams or less.
Be Wary of “Health” Food. Another sneaky source of added sugar comes from foods promoted as healthy, such as flavored yogurt, breakfast and energy bars, enhanced waters, bottled smoothies, and sweetened teas. According to one study, a leading brand of flavored yogurt contained a whopping 29 grams of added sugar, while a breakfast bar “made with real fruit and whole grains” contained 15 grams. While we might recognize that a can of soda is a sugar bomb (coming in at 39 grams), we might not expect an enhanced water (32 grams per bottle), or an all-natural iced tea (upwards of 40 grams per bottle), to be just as bad.
Don’t Fake It. When trying to reduce the sugar in your diet, you may be tempted to replace it with artificial sugar. Don’t. Not only do artificial sweeteners interfere with your body’s hunger signals (causing you to overeat in search of those missing calories), they actually make you crave more sugar—which is exactly the kind of thing you’re trying to avoid!
A little sugar can go a long way, so use it wisely.