The Not-So-Sweet Facts
It’s hard to resist the sweet taste of sugar. However, you may not realize just how much sugar you’re eating because sugar is added to so many foods and beverages. Typically, Americans consume more than 13 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. Consuming too many added sugars is linked to serious health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.
March is National Nutrition Month®, making it a good time to consider whether you need to cut back on your added sugar consumption. Learning more about added sugars can help you improve your overall health by reducing your intake of the empty and mostly extra calories that added sugars provide.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a common food ingredient and one type of carbohydrate. In addition to providing a sweet flavor, sugar performs a variety of functions in foods, such as adding texture and facilitating baking. Although sucrose, the white sugar placed in sugar bowls, is its most familiar type, sugar actually comes in many forms—including fructose, glucose, lactose, and corn syrup—to name a few. Sugar contains approximately 4 calories per gram. One teaspoon of sugar contains about 4 grams (about 16 calories) of sugar. One sugar cube also contains about 4 grams of sugar.
models and sugar test tubes to compare the sugar content of 10 foods.
What’s the Difference Between Natural and Added Sugars?
Sugars that are naturally occurring in unprocessed foods are called natural sugars. Fruits, vegetables, milk, and some grains all contain natural sugars. Foods with natural sugars tend to have a high nutritional value and are often good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For example, 100% orange juice is made from oranges, which contain natural sugars. Most of the calories in orange juice come from sugars, but orange juice also is a great source of vitamin C.
Added sugars, however, refer to the sugar or syrup that is added to foods during processing or preparation. Even though our bodies process natural and added sugars in the same way, added sugars provide extra calories but little or no healthy nutritional value. For example, cola is full of added sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup, but it has no nutritional value in the form of fiber or essential vitamins and minerals.
the added sugars in cola can pack on extra weight.
Some foods, like chocolate milk, contain both natural and added sugars. Milk contains a natural sugar called lactose. To make chocolate milk, sugar is added along with the chocolate flavoring to make it sweeter. Both milk and chocolate milk have nutritional value because they contain calcium, vitamin D, and protein. The added sugars in chocolate milk, however, add only additional calories, not additional vitamins or minerals.
Are Added Sugars Needed in the Diet?
Your body doesn’t need added sugars to function properly. You can get carbohydrates and calories in foods without added sugars that provide more of the nutrients you need. To meet your nutritional needs for optimal health, focus on eating healthy foods without large amounts of added sugars and limiting the foods you eat that contain added sugars.
with sugar to compare the hidden sugars in 10 common foods.
What Foods Are High in Added Sugars?
The largest source of added sugars in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, sweetened coffee drinks, energy drinks, sport drinks, and fruit-flavored drinks. Other major sources of added sugars include candy, ice cream and other dairy desserts, and baked goods, such as cookies, doughnuts, pastries, cakes, and pies.
sugar-filled beverage models to depict how much sugar is in popular drinks.
How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much?
According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should get less than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. For example, in a 2,000-calorie diet, a person should consume no more than 200 calories from added sugars, which is no more than 50 grams (about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day.
The American Heart Association recommends stricter limits for added sugars: no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day for most women and no more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons) of added sugars per day for most men. When you consider that a 12-ounce can of regular cola contains 39 grams (more than 9 teaspoons) of added sugars, you can see how quickly added sugars add up!
to demonstrate the empty calories in soda.
How Can I Reduce My Intake of Added Sugars?
The best way to cut down on added sugars is to consume fewer foods that contain added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, and dairy desserts. Make these foods only occasional treats.
When purchasing packaged foods, check Nutrition Facts labels to make choices lower in added sugars. Eventually, all Nutrition Facts labels will be required to provide how many grams of added sugars are included within a serving’s total amount of sugars. Currently, many food labels provide the total amount of sugars in a serving without distinguishing how many grams are actually added sugars.
of the Nutrition Facts label with extra information on added sugars.
You should also check the ingredient list on packaged food. If sugar is one of the first ingredients listed, the food is probably high in added sugars. Be aware, however, that added sugars go by many names. Ingredients that end in “ose,” such as fructose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose, are often added sugars. Other common added sugars include cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, malt syrup, and molasses.
What Are Some Other Tips to Reduce Added Sugars?
- Buy fresh fruit for snacks instead of foods high in added sugars, such as baked goods.
- Choose fresh fruits or canned fruits packed in water instead of packed in syrup.
- Use fruit to sweeten cereal instead of table sugar.
- Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes when baking.
- Use spices and herbs to add sweetness instead of sugar.
- Drink water or 100 percent fruit juice instead of sugary soft drinks or fruit-flavored drinks.
If you have any questions about the added sugars in your diet and how to reduce them, talk with your healthcare professional.
To learn more about our nutrition education resources that teach about added sugars and other essential nutrition concepts, please visit our Nutrition Section.
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