Are added sugars causing you to hold on to those extra pounds?
What happens when you boil the contents from a can of regular (not diet) soda? This was one of my favorite questions to ask teenage students in my nutrition classes. At the beginning of class, I poured a 12 oz. can of soda into a pot on the stove and let it simmer during the entire class. At the end of class after the water had evaporated, all that was left in the pot was a thick syrup. We measured the syrup and it was 8 teaspoons (or 32 grams) of sugar. Then, I asked the students how many of them would mix 8 teaspoons of sugar with water and drink it. Of course, they all shook their heads in disgust.
According to the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugars each day! Fifty percent of these calories come from sweetened beverages. Interestingly enough, the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines highlight the importance of decreasing added sugars in our diet.
Why is the focus on added sugars?
Added sugars provide carbohydrates and calories, but no key vitamins or minerals. In other words, by reducing added sugars in our diet we can decrease calories without compromising nutrients. High intakes of sugars have been linked to overweight and obesity, increased blood fat levels, hypertension, and lower intakes of essential vitamins and minerals.
What are the two types of sugars in foods and beverages?
- Naturally occurring sugars are sugars in milk and fruit. These sugars are part of the original food and are not added.
- Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared, such as in sodas and desserts.
You do not need to avoid fruit and milk because these foods also contain many other important nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, antioxidants, calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential as part of a healthy diet. On the other hand, it is wise to limit the amount of foods and beverages with added sugars.
What are the major food sources of added sugars in the American diet?
- Regular sodas
- Sweetened coffee drinks
- Energy drinks and sports drinks
- Chocolate Milk
- Pre-Sweetened ready-to-eat cereals
- Jams & jellies
- Desserts (pudding, baked goods and chocolate)
- Snacks, such as granola bars and canned fruit in syrup
- Sweetened dairy products, such as yogurts and ice cream
- Sweetened grain products
- BBQ sauce
- Salad dressings
Do natural sugars count as added sugars?
When counting added sugars, yes, you need to count natural sugar sources, such as maple syrup, agave, brown sugar, molasses, honey, corn syrup, and cane sugar. Just because these sugars are from natural sources, does not mean you can eat as much as you want. They still contain 4 calories in one gram.
How do you identify "hidden sources" of added sugars?
Look at the ingredient list. In addition to the natural sugars listed above, here are different names for added sugars: sucrose, dextrose, invert sugar, maltose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), anhydrous dextrose, malt syrup, galactose, fructose, lactose, dried can syrup, cane juice, and nectars (peach and pear)
The new food label identifies grams of added sugars!
Exciting news! The updated Nutrition Facts Label will differentiate between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. The new label is already used on some packages. Per the FDA, "manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales must switch to the new label by January 1, 2020; manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021 to comply." This new update allows us to see exactly how much added sugars are in a product!
How to sweeten in the kitchen without added sugars
- Buy really fresh fruit in season. Nothing is as satisfying as a Palisade Peach from Colorado in August!
- Use bananas in smoothies, oatmeal, and baked desserts. If your bananas are overripe, peel them and place them in a small bag in the freezer for future use in smoothies.
- In your baked goods, try unsweetened applesauce as a replacement for 1/2 of the sugar and decrease liquids by 1/4 cup.
- A healthy sugar substitute in your baked goods: soak unsweetened dried fruit, such as prunes, dates, and apricots in hot water and then puree.
- Add naturally sweet berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries to unsweetened yogurt.
Yes, you can decrease your calories and lose weight by decreasing the added sugars in your foods and beverages! As a bonus, you can do this without losing any important vitamins or minerals! Switching to water instead of a sweetened beverage is an easy way to start!
Originally published on 8 September 2015
Updated: 8 September 2015
Martha recently completed her Masters of Public Health (MPH) in global epidemiology and aims to help people improve their health on a population basis around the world.
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