How is sugar being sneaked into our diets?

Sugar has become quite the target in the dietary world. With it’s links to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer it has become an infamous ingredient on our food labels. When some of us hear the word sugar we automatically frown upon it and try to stay away from it. However, avoiding sugars these days is close to impossible thanks to sugar having more than 60 different names. It can easily sneak up on even the healthiest of us everyday.

 According to the USDA, America’s consumption of caloric sweeteners (sugars) increased by 39% from 1950-59 to 2000. A report from the 2001-04 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) revealed that  that Americans consume about 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day, equivalent to 355 calories. The recommended intake for added sugars is no more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day for women and no more than 150 calories (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) for men.

 For example, a serving of flavored yogurt can have up to 24 grams of sugar (more than a single Twinkie!) equivalent to your daily recommended 6 teaspoons. One of the important caveats to reading the food labels is that sugar content includes both naturally occurring sugars (from fruits and milk), and added sugars (the rest of the caloric sweeteners that are added in order to make the food sweeter and tastier). Therefore, it is a difficult task to separate the natural and the added sugars making you stand at the supermarket and perform all of these complex calculations. It is important to be aware and mindful of these added sugars, and know how to spot them so that we can gain more control of the sugar content in our diets.

 Here are 8 foods with high sugar content that may have been sneaking into your diet:

  1. Tomato Sauce: sugar balances out the natural acidity of tomatoes; ripe tomatoes have lower acidity. Therefore, if the tomato sauce is made with tomatoes that have not ripened and other less wholesome ingredients there will be more sugar in it to compensate for the lack of good taste.
  2. Bread: some brands of bread can contain sugar under as many as 15 different names on the ingredient list. Don’t let the whole wheat or gluten free labels fool you. Make sure you look at the sugar content and the ingredients list.
  3. Condiments such as BBQ Sauce and ketchup: a two tablespoon serving of barbecue sauce may contain 12 grams of sugar; and ketchup has about a teaspoon of sugar in each tablespoon serving.
  4. Salad Dressings: these sometimes contain up to 9 grams of sugar per serving: especially if labeled fat free or lowfat.
  5. Fat-free and low-fat foods: these are usually laden with high amounts of sugar and salt in order to compensate for the lack of flavor.
  6. Cereals, flavored oatmeal and granola: these can sometimes pack more than 15 grams of sugar per serving
  7. Flavored yogurt: as mentioned before these can contain up to 24 grams of sugar per serving; although a certain amount comes from lactose in milk the rest is dangerous territory
  8. Dried fruit: some dried fruit like cranberries are naturally tart but sugar is added in order to make them sweeter and more appealing. However, these sugars can add up to 29 grams in a handful while a full cup of fresh cranberries has a only 4 grams of sugar. 

A few tips for deciphering the sugars on the ingredients list: 

  1. Four grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon – an important fact to keep in mind when reading nutrition labels. This helps you figure out how many teaspoons of sugar is in each serving if you divide the total grams of sugar by 4.
  2. Sugars ending in -ose include: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids.
  3. However here is the sneaky part, not all sugars end in -ose. These may not sound like sugar at all and some even sound healthy like fruit juice.

Regardless of how they sound, they are all the same sugar:

Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado,  Sorghum syrup, Refiner's syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar.

There is no need to go crazy and memorize all of them but it is good to be mindful of these and if you see more than 2 or 3 ingredients on the label that sound like something from chemistry lab, it is better to go with a more wholesome and clean food that doesn't need a paragraph of ingredients.


Recommended reading:

Food as a basic human need

Paleo diet on the budget

Understanding the anti-nutrient Phytic acid

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