About Added Sugar
This might sound like an overly simplified answer but it’s simply sugar that is added to the things you eat and drink. Most often this added sugar is highly refined and comes with zero nutritional value… just empty calories. And it’s found everywhere.
Some places are obvious: sweet drinks like soda and fruit juice, cereal, and sugary treats like cookies, candy and cake. Then there are the ones we don’t think enough about like syrups, toppings and low-fat foods. However, surprisingly, added sugar is hidden in some of the most unlikely places as well.
Why is Added Sugar in our food?
Sugar is found naturally in some foods that make up a healthy diet – fruits, vegetables, milk and some grains. However, it’s also added to many foods. This is done to:
- Enhance the flavor
- Act as a preservative like in jams and jellies.
- Provide texture and color for baked goods
- Work as a bulking agent like in ice cream
- Fuel fermentation
- Balance acidity for foods containing vinegar and tomatoes like ketchup
Why is Added Sugar a problem?
It’s not when we track how much added sugar we eat and drink. The problem is most of us don’t even know how much we’re supposed to have and so we consume too much.
Typically, foods with added sugar don’t contain a lot of fiber and if you’re going to consume sugar you better have some fiber (that’s how it works with fruits and vegetables – they contain sugar but also fiber). Fiber helps “neutralize” some of the effects of the sugar and its impact on our pancreas which produces insulin.
So, in short, with added sugar you get all the sugar with none of the nutritional benefits. Oh, and it’s addictive which means you’ll want to consume more and more of it which is what food manufactures like. If you don’t think it’s addictive ask yourself this question, “Why is it that you never hear of someone binging on broccoli but they do on ice cream?”
The obvious outcome of continually consuming addictive foods with little to no fiber and a lot of fat and added sugar is weight gain but there is an assortment of other health related issues directly or indirectly related to the consumption of too much added sugar:
- Heart Disease – too much added sugar increases triglyceride levels
- Obesity – sugar packs on the calories and the increase insulin levels prevents your body from burning fat
- Diabetes – sugar, by most accounts, doesn’t cause diabetes but there is a correlation between the two
- Associated with: depressed immune system, hormonal imbalance, some cancers, skin aging, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, Candida yeast infections, and kidney and liver problems.
How do I spot Added Sugar?
The best way to spot it is to avoid it. A general rule is if your food requires a nutritional label and you can’t pronounce the ingredients then you are probably better off not eating it. If you happen to eat something that does require a label then check the label. It won’t tell you the daily recommended allowance because there isn’t one for sugar but it will tell you how much added sugar is in the food in the form of grams. If you are in a restaurant then ask to see the nutritional information. If they don’t have it look it up on your phone or make a “safer” choice like a salad.
Read: Why is Added Sugar Bad
Added sugar comes in a lot of forms and under a lot of different names. This is done to disguise the fact that there is sugar added to the food. Besides the obvious word choices like “sugar” here are a few of the most commonly used forms of added sugar:
- Brown sugar
- Cane juice and cane syrup
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Corn sweeteners and corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Granulated white sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- White sugar
A quick rule of thumb that many find helpful is if the word ends in “ose” it’s a good bet it’s added sugar.
How much Added Sugar should I have?
The government doesn’t have a daily recommended allowance like with other ingredients but the American Heart Association recommends no more than 12 grams for children, 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men.
That’s not a lot of added sugar and for good reason. By some estimates Americans consume upwards of 150 pounds of sugar a year. It’s easy to how, when you consider how much sugar is in foods like sodas and kids’ cereals, it all adds up quickly.
What Can I Do About Added Sugar?
Chances are if you eat you’re going to consume added sugar. Naturally, consuming less of the foods that have added sugar is a great way to start. Having a treat every now and then is not a bad thing. Having a treat every day is. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Increase the amount of fiber you are consuming and understand where all of that sugar is coming from.
Consuming less added sugar is important not only for your health now but you’ll also reduce the probability of having major health issues in the future from the compounded effects of consuming too much added sugar every day.
One of the best things you can do is educate yourself on which foods are healthy and which are loaded with added sugar. Here are a few resources for you: