How Much Sugar is Too Much?
If you've been working to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, you make a point to avoid foods and beverages high in sugar. Maybe you've given up soda, steer clear of candy, and have cut down on pizza, cookies, cakes, and other desserts. But did you know that many everyday foods—even some you may consider ‘healthy’—could contain large amounts of hidden sugar?
On average, most adults in America take in 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily—that’s more than three times the recommendation for women, and double the recommended intake for men. Added sugar is defined as sugars that aren't naturally occuring in the food, but are added to a food. So think an apple versus the high-fructose syrup you get in a Pop-Tart. Other examples of "added" sugars: cane sugar, honey, and dextrose.
An excess of added sugar in a diet doesn't do anyone any favors: these sugars may increase the risk for heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.2
How to Become a Sugar Sleuth
Flavored yogurts, cereal, condiments such as ketchup and barbeque sauce, lunchmeat, and even breads can all be sources of large amounts of added sugar. If added sugar seems to be hiding everywhere, what can be done to reduce it? The first step is to become label savvy. Although new food labeling guidelines were recently released mandating that naturally-occurring sugars be listed separately from added sugars, these changes won’t start appearing on packaged foods until 2018.
For now, the best way to identify if a food contains added sugars is to review the ingredient list on the food label. Since ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, foods that contain a source of added sugar in the top three to five ingredients will contain the largest amount of added sugar. When you are checking for sources of added sugar, remember that sugar goes by many names. Words such as corn syrup, molasses, malt syrup, can juice, fruit nectar, and words that end in these three letters “-ose” (such as dextrose, fructose, and glucose) are all forms of added sugars.
As you work on reducing your intake of added sugars, you may also be wondering about naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fresh fruit. Although too much dietary sugar from any source can have a negative impact on health, naturally occurring sugars are often found in foods containing high amounts of fiber and antioxidants.
For instance, a medium apple contains around 15 grams of sugar naturally, but it also contains 4 grams of filling fiber. You would have to eat four apples to take in the same amount of sugar found in one medium soft drink. It is unlikely you would be able to eat four apples, with their high volume and fiber content, in just a few minutes. However, it is easy to drink 16 ounces of soda in under 10 minutes. For this reason, most sugars naturally occurring in plant-based foods like fruit are often not consumed in such excess where they would damage health. But keep in mind, just because a sugar is natural doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care to monitor your portions. Honey for instance is natural, yet contains little fiber. Adding large amounts of honey to your beverages and foods can easily cause you to exceed the daily recommendations for sugar.
When it comes to reducing your intake of dietary sugars, focus on choosing whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains as much as possible while reducing your intake of packaged foods. The less processed a food is, the less likely it contains added sugars.