Monday, April 19, 2010

Added Sugar: Don't Get Sabotaged By Sweeteners

Do you know how much sugar is in your diet? See why added sugar is a concern and how you can cut back.
By Mayo Clinic staff

If you're like many people, you may be eating and drinking more sugar than ever because it's added to so many foods and beverages. But this added sugar may be one of the factors in the rise in obesity and other health problems.
Does that mean you can or should avoid all sugar? Not necessarily. Sugar occurs naturally in some healthy foods. But other foods and beverages, especially sweetened soft drinks, may be high in added sugar — and low in nutritional value. Added sugar does little more than add extra calories to your diet and set the stage for potential health problems.

Learn more about added sugar, including the types of added sugar, where it's most commonly found and how you can cut back on added sugar in your diet. When you know more about added sugar, you can be a savvy consumer — and maybe a healthier one, too.

Why added sugar is in so many foods

All sugar, whether natural or processed, is a type of simple carbohydrate that your body uses for energy. Sugar occurs naturally in some unprocessed foods that are staples of a healthy diet — fruits, vegetables, milk and some grains. Various forms of processed sugars and syrups also are added to foods and beverages, especially nondiet soft drinks — these are known as added sugar.

While added sugar has no nutritional value, it serves many functions in food manufacturing. Added sugar:
  • Boosts flavor
  • Gives baked goods texture and color
  • Helps preserve foods such as jams and jellies
  • Fuels fermentation, which produces alcohol and enables bread to rise
  • Serves as a bulking agent in baked goods and ice cream
  • Balances the acidity of foods containing vinegar and tomatoes
In some cases, adding a small amount of sugar may be helpful. For instance, adding a small amount of sugar to healthy breakfast cereals and reduced-fat milk products can make these healthy options more appealing to children who might otherwise avoid them.

Why added sugar can be a problem

Added sugar probably isn't harmful in small amounts. But there's no health advantage to consuming any amount of added sugar. And too much added sugar, and in some cases naturally occurring sugar, can lead to such health problems as:
  • Tooth decay. All forms of sugar promote tooth decay by allowing bacteria to grow. The more often and longer you snack on foods and beverages with either natural sugar or added sugar, the more likely you are to develop cavities, especially if you don't practice good oral hygiene.
  • Poor nutrition. If you fill up on foods laden with added sugar, you may skimp on nutritious foods, which means you could miss out on important nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Regular soda plays an especially big role. It's easy to fill up on sweetened soft drinks and skip low-fat milk and even water — giving you lots of extra sugar and calories and no nutritional value.
  • Weight gain. There's usually no single cause for being overweight or obese. But added sugar likely contributes to the problem. One reason is that added sugar helps makes food taste better, and that may encourage you to keep eating even when you don't need to or aren't actually hungry. Sugar is also very energy dense, which means a small amount of food or drink with added sugar has a large amount of calories.
  • Increased triglycerides. Some evidence suggests that eating an excessive amount of added sugar can increase triglyceride levels, boosting your risk of heart disease.
Recommendations for consuming added sugar

So how much added sugar should you eat? Unfortunately, it's not necessarily clear-cut. Health experts do agree that the calories you get from foods and drinks with added sugar are discretionary — you can have them, but it's not recommended. Discretionary calories are calories from sweets, fats and alcohol that should be included in your diet only if you have calories to spare after eating nutritious meals during the day, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides recommendations on good dietary habits to promote health and reduce the risk of diseases, doesn't spell out how much added sugar you should get. But the guidelines do suggest the number of discretionary calories you can have based on your situation, such as age and physical activity level. For example, if you should consume 2,000 calories a day for a healthy diet, 267 of those calories would be discretionary calories that you could "spend" on food or drinks that contain added sugar, solid fats and alcohol. The more you have of one, the less you can have of another. For instance, you could consume all of your discretionary calories either by eating one sugary snack or by having a couple of alcoholic drinks.

The American Heart Association (AHA), however, is so concerned about health problems related to the excess consumption of added sugar that in August 2009 it issued specific recommendations. These recommendations go beyond the guidance from the USDA. The AHA recommends that no more than half of your discretionary allowance of calories come from added sugar.

In general, the AHA says that most American women should consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar, and that most American men should consume no more than 150 calories a day from added sugar — and that even less is better. That's about 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 for men. Your age and activity level help determine the specific amount of added sugar suitable for you. To put things into perspective, one 12-ounce can of a sweetened soft drink contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 130 calories.

Most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons a day of added sugar — or 355 calories — far exceeding both USDA guidelines and American Heart Association recommendations.

How to reduce added sugar in your diet

If you want to reduce the added sugar in your diet, follow these tips:
  • Cut out sugary, nondiet sodas.
  • Limit candy, gum and other sweets that are high in added sugar.
  • Choose breakfast cereals carefully. Although healthy breakfast cereals can contain added sugar to make them more appealing to children, skip the non-nutritious, sugary and frosted cereals.
  • Have fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies and other sweets.
  • If you choose canned fruit, make sure it's packed in water or juice, not syrup.
  • Have your children drink more milk or water and less fruit juice and fruit drinks — and yourself, too. Even 100 percent fruit juice has a high concentration of sugar.
  • Eat fewer added-sugar processed foods, such as sweetened grains like honey-nut waffles and some microwaveable meals.
  • Go easy on the condiments — sugar is added to salad dressings and ketchup.
  • Opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Be aware that dairy-based desserts and processed milk products, such as ice cream and sweetened yogurt, can contain lots of added sugar.
  • Avoid blended coffee drinks with flavored syrup and sweet toppings.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation, since it contains sugar.
  • Snack on vegetables, fruit, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers, and low-fat, low-calorie yogurt instead of candy, pastries and cookies.
  • Recognizing added sugar
  • If you're not sure which foods and beverages contain added sugar, don't despair. First, know that among the biggest culprits behind excessive amounts of added sugar are soft drinks and sugary fruit drinks.
  • Ways to spot added sugar:
  • Read the front of the food package. Some, but not all packages, state whether an item is sugar-free or contains no added sugar. But be aware that some sugar-free products may contain sugar substitutes, and some of these can cause stomach or digestive upset.
  • Check the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. So if you see sugar listed among the first few ingredients, the product might be high in added sugar. Know that sugar goes by many different names, though — it may not be easy to spot added sugar even in the ingredient list. And natural sugars generally aren't included in the ingredient list.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts label. The label is required to list an item's total amount of sugar per serving. However, it doesn't distinguish between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar.
  • Check for grocery store nutrition rating systems. These nutrition rating systems, such as Guiding Stars and NuVal, use symbols, scores or colors to indicate how a product rates in terms of calories, fiber, fat, sodium, and sometimes sugar and other nutrients.
  • Different names for added sugar
  • Sugar goes by many different names, depending on its source and how it was made. This can make it confusing to identify added sugar, even when you read ingredient lists and food labels. One easy way: Check for ingredients ending in "ose" &mdsah; that's the chemical name for many types of sugar, such as fructose.
Here's a look at common types of sugar and added sugar:
  • Brown sugar. Granulated white sugar with added molasses for flavor and color, commonly used in baking.
  • Cane juice and cane syrup. Sugar from processed sugar cane. Further processing produces brown or white solid cane sugar.
  • Confectioners' sugar. Granulated white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder, sometimes with a small amount of cornstarch. Commonly used in icings and whipped toppings.
  • Corn sweeteners and corn syrup. Corn sugars and corn syrups made from corn and processed cornstarch.
  • Dextrose. Another name for glucose.
  • Fructose. Sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and honey.
  • Fruit juice concentrate. A form of sugar made when water is removed from whole juice to make it more concentrated.
  • Glucose. A simple sugar that provides your body's main source of energy. Also called blood sugar because it circulates in your blood.
  • Granulated white sugar. This is table sugar, or pure crystallized sucrose, made by processing raw sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. It's commonly used in baking or to sweeten tea or coffee.
  • High fructose corn syrup. The most common sweetener in processed foods and beverages, this is a combination of fructose and glucose made by processing corn syrup.
  • Honey. A mix of glucose, fructose and sucrose created from nectar made by bees.
  • Invert sugar. Used as a food additive to preserve freshness and prevent shrinkage, this is a mix of fructose and glucose made by processing sucrose.
  • Lactose. Sugar that occurs naturally in milk.
  • Maltose. Starch and malt broken down into simple sugars and used commonly in beer, bread and baby food.
  • Malt syrup. A grain syrup made from evaporated corn mash and sprouted barley.
  • Molasses. The thick, dark syrup that's left after sugar beets or sugar cane is processed for table sugar.
  • Sucrose. The chemical name for granulated white sugar (table sugar).
  • Syrup. Sugar comes in many forms of syrup, a thick, sweet liquid that can be made from the processing of sugar or from sugar cane, grains such as corn or rice, maple sap, and other sources.
  • White sugar. Same as granulated white sugar (table sugar).

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