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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Crites

Sugar and Your Health

Oh, sugar. We all know about the sweet stuff. We’ve all tried it, and at one time or another, we’ve all added it to our food or drink. There’s no denying that sugar is sweet, tasty, and easily incorporated into just about everything. But just because it tastes good and is readily available, should we really be consuming as much of it as we do? Likely, the answer is “No.”

To date, sugar’s effects on health have been widely studied, and the general consensus is that there can be too much of a good thing–not to mention that most Americans greatly exceed recommended sugar intake on a regular basis. Many studies have found that a diet high in added sugars greatly increases a person’s chances of being obese, as well as the risk for having high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease. For more information about the harmful effects of a diet high in sugars, click here.

So, how do you know if you could stand to decrease your sugar intake, and what changes should you make to accomplish this? Read below to find out.

Added Sugars vs. Natural Sugars

All sugars are similar in that they are simple forms of carbohydrates. That being said, not all sugars are created equal. It’s important to consider natural sugar vs. added sugar. Natural sugars are found in foods like fruit and milk. These minimally processed foods are also natural sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein and are very much a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Added sugars, on the other hand, are found in highly processed and much less natural food items. As you might imagine, these sugars are not naturally present in food and are instead added to foods and drinks after processing to improve taste and texture. Oftentimes, foods with a lot of added sugar also contain a lot of not-so-healthy fat and sodium but don’t contain a great amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Added sugars can be sneaky, and it’s very easy to consume a large amount of them if you’re unaware of where they lurk. 

So, where exactly are these added sugars hiding? The most common food and drinks that contain added sugars are listed below.

  1. Packaged cookies, pastries, donuts and candy

  2. Packaged foods like cereal, ready to eat meals, flavored oatmeal

  3. Dressings, condiments, marinades, and sauces

  4. Ice creams, flavored milk, and yogurt

  5. Juices, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and coffee drinks

As you can see, added sugar is all around. According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day, while men are limited to 9 teaspoons (150 calories). This limit does not include the natural sugars that were mentioned earlier. As of now, nutrition facts labels on food items do not have a line indicating how much added sugars are in a product, so determining this takes a bit of effort. Added sugar often goes by several names, which can be identified by checking the ingredients list found near the nutrition facts label:

  1. Barley malt

  2. Brown sugar

  3. Cane sugar/solids/juice

  4. Corn syrup

  5. Dextrin

  6. Dextrose

  7. Glucose

  8. High fructose corn syrup

  9. Honey

  10. Invert sugar

  11. Lactose

  12. Maltose

  13. Mannose

  14. Maple syrup

  15. Molasses

  16. Sucrose

  17. Turbinado

Added sugars are sneaky, and it’s hard to completely avoid them. But, there are ways to reduce the amount of sugar you might be used to eating.  When buying food products, look for those labeled “unsweetened” or “no sugar added”, incorporate more water or unsweetened teas instead of sugary beverages (remember, hydration is important!), and focus on the basics of building a healthy plate . Artificial sweeteners may also be an option, but there’s no consensus as to whether or not regular consumption of them is beneficial to health. Ideally, it’s best to decrease added sugar by working on the above suggestions rather than just switching to artificial sweeteners.

As you can see, added sugars are pretty prevalent in the average American diet. When eaten in moderation, these sugars can fit into a healthy diet; however, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing. For more tips on how to reduce sugar intake, click here. Speaking to a dietitian can also be very helpful in decreasing sugar in a more individualized way. As always, don’t hesitate to email with any questions or concerns.

This post was written in large part by Taylor Beard, dietetic intern at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Taylor will be eligible to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in May of 2018.

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