The Truth About Sugar
Is the sweet stuff really bad for us?
Walk down almost any aisle in the supermarket, and you’ll see everything from canned fruit to ice cream labeled “No Sugar Added” or “Sugar Free.” Not one package says “Full of Sugar,” but nonetheless we’re all consuming it. In fact, sugar can be considered the most popular food additive in America.
Basically, sugars are carbohydrates that occur naturally in foods, like fruit, and that’s OK. But the problem is the sugar that’s added to our foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “added sugar” as “sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation.”
The drawbacks of added sugars (and they’re big ones): They offer sweetness with little or no nutritional benefits. When you consume added-sugar calories rather than nutrient-rich calories, you’re shortchanging your health. And, of course, too much sugar, even if you’re eating an otherwise balanced diet, can lead to a calorie overload—and that ultimately means you’ll gain weight.
What’s more, the American Heart Association (AHA) says that a high intake of added sugars “has been implicated in numerous poor health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke” as well as “shortfalls of essential nutrients.”
The organization suggests a maximum added-sugar intake of 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons) per day for most American women and 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons) per day for most American men. If you’re young and highly active, these numbers can be higher; if you’re older and sedentary, these numbers will be lower.
If you’d like to reduce your added-sugar consumption, the first step is to know what foods have it. There are obvious culprits: cookies, cakes, and candies, not to mention the little sugar packets you add to coffee or tea. But you might be surprised at where else added sugars can show up: bread, crackers, pizza, pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, luncheon meat, soup, yogurt, and even nutrition bars.
Unfortunately, the sugar grams listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels includes all types of sugars—naturally occurring and added. So rather than focus too much on the number of sugar grams, read ingredient lists to determine where the sugar is coming from. Look for these terms, which indicate the presence of added sugars: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup.