Nutrition Tip of the Week: Understanding and Avoiding Added Sugars

Sugar is not just added for sweetness and increased palatability. Sugar often gets added to processed foods to extend shelf life, improve texture and color, and increase the browning capability of our food.

Nutrition Tip of the Week

Understanding Added Sugars

Added sugars are just about everywhere in our food supply, from the obvious items such as soda and sports drinks to the not so obvious foods like breads and “natural” nut butters. Our palates have been hard-wired to prefer sweet-tasting foods that provide us with energy and to avoid bitter tastes that can be poisonous to us. Today’s average American consumes more than 17 teaspoons per day from added sugar!

Why is Sugar Added to Our Food?

Sugar is not just added for sweetness and increased palatability. Sugar often gets added to processed foods to extend shelf life, improve texture and color, and increase the browning capability of our food.

Where is Added Sugar Lurking?

The Obvious

Beverages

Leading the pack for added sugars are soda, juice drinks and juice “cocktails,” energy drinks, sweetened waters, sweet teas, and sweet coffees. How about this:

Sweets and Desserts

So, most of us expect the sugar here, but we might be unaware of just how much there is. Check out some of these astounding stats on your favorite desserts from popular American food chains.

Honey and Syrups

Yes, these are “natural” foods that often contain only one ingredient, but they are considered to be added sugars based on the current FDA food labeling guidelines.
“Added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. They do not include naturally occurring sugars that are found in milk, fruits, and vegetables.”

The Not So Obvious

Condiments

Condiments are defined as spices, sauces, or other preparations that you add to food to enhance its flavor. This list includes things like ketchup, relish, barbeque sauce, sriracha, honey mustard, salad dressings, seasoning packets, and salsa. Just two tablespoons of some popular brands of BBQ sauce contain as much as 16 grams of sugar.

Prepared and Processed Foods

The vast majority of prepared foods contain added sugars—even foods that you don’t think of as sweet. Breakfast cereals, frozen meals, breads, soups, jarred sauces, and cured meats all contain added sugars in varying amounts. Flavored yogurts often have quite a bit of added sugar, especially those marketed for children.

What’s the Take-Away?

For most of us, it’s unreasonable (and not very enjoyable) to try to eliminate all added sugars. The current FDA guidelines recommend that added sugars not exceed 50 grams per day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).

If you are not already in the practice of reading food labels, looking at added sugars is the best place to start. Personally, I like to keep a list of my “go-to” brands or varieties for bread, nut butter, yogurt, frozen foods, sauces, and condiments to keep my shopping trips efficient and to prevent the frustration of other shoppers when I stand in the aisle comparing labels on peanut butter jars.


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