How much sugar are you eating?
Chances are, you don’t really know. This is because sugar can ‘hide’ behind more than 50 different names!
The new food label, which must be on all products (with the exception of some smaller manufacturers) by July 26, 2018 has been mandated to include a line for added sugars. A few other changes are coming to the food label as well. You can learn more about them through a link at the end of this blog post.
Added sugars are important, and I am glad they are being brought to light. The current food label does not differentiate between added sugars and natural sugars. As a dietitian, one of the items I get asked about the most is sugar. The most common questions I get will be addressed in this blog post:
- What are the different types of sugar?
- How can I avoid added sugar?
- How much sugar am I getting in my diet?
- How much sugar is okay to consume?
So let’s get started!
What are the different types of sugar?
1. Naturally occurring sugar – sugar that naturally occurs in foods such as fruit and most dairy products (with the exception of cheese).
2. Added sugar – sugar that is added during processing or preparation of food. This is where it gets confusing, there are so many names sugar can hide behind! See the colorful chart below for all of the names of added sugar.
Because naturally occurring sugar is found in foods with health benefits (milk and fruit), it isn’t a concern for most people. Added sugar is where people tend to get in trouble. Added sugar occurs in processed foods. Processed foods are typically low in things your body needs (like vitamins and minerals), and high in things your body doesn’t need – like overly processed ingredients, added chemicals, and preservatives.
How Can I Avoid Added Sugar?
By eating whole foods – foods in their most natural state (or something you would find on a food chain). For example, a baked potato would be a whole food, and a potato chip would be a processed version of that whole food. You would easily find a potato on a food chain, but never a potato chip!
How much sugar am I getting in my diet?
Of course, the answer to this question is different for everyone. To get an idea, start by looking at food labels. If there are more than 5 grams of sugar per serving in a food you are eating, you will want to look at the ingredients list to determine if the source of the sugar is naturally occurring or added.
Note: When the nutrition facts panel changes over the next couple of years, all you will need to do is look at the added sugars line – with a goal of keeping your total added sugars for the day low. We will talk about what ‘low’ means next.
Ingredients lists actually list ingredients by order or descending weight. This means that typically the most prevalent ingredient will be listed first, and the least prevalent ingredient will be listed last.
If sugar occurs naturally in the food you are examining, there is no need to worry about consuming that product. Foods that naturally contain sugar include dairy products and fruit, both of which provide health benefits. If the sugar has been added to that item, be conscious of how much you consume – typically added sugars are found in processed foods which provide little (if any) nutritional value.
Check out this Powerade example:
How much sugar is okay to consume?
This is a really interesting topic, because the FDA and USDA do not give an amount of sugar to consume because sugar is not a recommended nutrient. The recommendations are to limit sugar, but they do not say by how much sugar should be limited.
The American Heart Association, has stepped up and recommends no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day for women (6 teaspoons) and no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men (9 teaspoons). Remember, it’s not recommended to consume this much – it’s recommended not to consume more than this much.
To learn more about the changes to the food label, click here.
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