Babies frequently prefer sweeter fruits over bland vegetables and meat, and as people grow older, the cravings remain. For some, this love of sugar becomes a lifelong obsession that results in the consumption of too many sweets, which can lead to adverse health problems.
The trouble does not lie with eating foods that are naturally sweet but with consuming too many products loaded with added sugar. Many fruits are sweet and also good for a person’s health, but eating too many manmade products such as candy and soda can be problematic and result in diabetes and other related health complications.
Sugar is a carbohydrate (a macronutrient that provides energy to the body) that can be added to foods and drinks to give them a sweet taste as well as texture, body, and bulk. Sugar also provides calories and is referred to as a caloric sweetener.
There are two types of sugars, those found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables and those artificially added to foods and drinks to make them taste sweeter.
Difference between Natural and Added Sugar
Natural sugar is found in unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, and certain grains. Common forms of natural sugar include fructose in fruits and lactose in milk and milk products.
Added sugar refers to any sugar that humans put in foods or drinks during the production process to give them a sweeter taste. The sugar found at the grocery store and in many peoples’ kitchens is also considered to be an added sugar. Processed foods and drinks can contain both natural sugar (like fructose) and added sugar (such as high-fructose corn syrup). Foods that contain added sugars include ice cream, some breakfast cereals, cookies, candy, pastries, fruit drinks, and other processed foods.
Added sugar serves many uses in food processing.
• Gives a more appealing taste to bland or bad-tasting foods
• Contributes to the texture and structure of food
• Serves as a preservative (such as in jellies and jams)
• Gives bulk to ice creams
• Controls crystallization in certain types of food
• Supports the fermentation process of bread and alcohol
• Helps to maintain the freshness of bread and other baked items
• Balances the acidity in food that contains vinegar and tomatoes
The American Heart Association states that, on average, a person consumes about half a cup of added sugar every day. This does not include the natural sugar present in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Many people are not aware of the amount of sugar they consume, so, without realizing it, they consume too much.
The body does not need added sugar to properly function. Therefore limiting sugar intake is important. Moreover, added sugar has no nutritional value and contains unnecessary calories that can generate excess weight and increase the risk of obesity and heart problems. Consuming too much added sugar can also result in tooth decay, increased triglycerides levels (a chemical form of fat within the body), problems controlling type-2 diabetes, and a reduction in the overall level of good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, or HDL).
It is best to reduce the consumption of added sugar and instead select foods with natural sugar. People consuming added sugar may be less likely to consume healthy foods. For instance, every soda that someone drinks is a glass of milk or water that they are NOT drinking. The soda satisfies their thirst and makes them feel “full,” and less likely to drink healthier liquids like milk, which provides the body with calcium, proteins, and vitamins. Soda and drinks with added sugar provide no nutrients and too many calories.
So how much added sugar is too much? Unfortunately, there is no clear figure. Studies show that an average American consumes about 22 teaspoons (355 calories) of added sugar every day. This is equal to the amount of sugar present in two 12-ounce cans of non-diet soda and a chocolate bar. This consumption of added sugar has contributed to rising rates of obesity and heart disease.
To minimize complications that arise from increased added sugar consumption, the American Heart Association (AHA) has published guidelines for eating added sugar. The AHA recommends no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) of added sugar per day for women and no more than nine teaspoons (155 calories) of added sugar per day for men.
Soft drinks and sugary fruit drinks are the biggest culprits of excess amounts of added sugar. Check the nutritional label on foods to find the quantity of sugar present. Unfortunately, the amount of added sugar and natural sugar are provided together as “total grams of sugar.”
Note that the amount of total sugar listed on nutritional labels refers to sugar found in a single serving. Also, remember that one gram of sugar contains four calories, and four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. If the food contains 15 grams of sugar per serving, then the amount of calories from sugar alone is equal to 60 calories per serving, excluding other ingredients. Some products have the label “sugar free” or “no added sugar.” These products, most likely, contain sugar substitutes.
Added sugar can be listed using various names on the label. Apart from the names ending with “ose” such as fructose, maltose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, and lactose, it also can be referred to as high fructose corn syrup, molasses, corn sweetener, raw sugar, cane sugar, syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrates, confectionary sugar, granulated white sugar, invert sugar, and malt syrup.
The first step to limiting excess added sugar is to understand which food contains high quantities of added sugar: sugary drinks such as soft drinks, sports drinks, artificial fruit drinks, non-diet soda, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, sweetened milk, dairy products, sweetened yogurt, sugar-sweetened cereals, waffles, and cinnamon toast.
Individuals who are truly serious about avoiding added sugars should cut out foods with white sugar, brown sugar, syrup, honey, or molasses. There are a few tips to keep in mind when avoiding excess sugar:
• Eliminate all foods and beverages that contain added sugar from the diet
• Substitute sugar with artificial sweetener
• Replace sweetened soda and beverages with water or low-fat milk
• If you want a soda, drink only sugar-free or low-caloric beverages
• Eat fresh fruits or fruits canned in water
• Avoid fruits canned in syrup
• Add fresh fruits like bananas, cherries, strawberries, or dried fruits like raisins or apricots to cereals or oatmeal in place of sugar
• When baking, use extracts of almond, vanilla, orange, or lemon instead of sugar
• Use equal amounts of unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar when baking a cake
• Eat more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, poultry, and fish
• Avoid processed foods, these can be rich in added sugar and high in fat and sodium
• Have fresh fruits or sweet potatoes for dessert instead of sugary products
• Eat whole grain bread and pasta instead of white bread or regular pasta
Being healthy is a balancing act. When a healthy balance is maintained, the body reciprocates by functioning well, fighting infections, and providing energy for everyday activities. When people supply the body with empty nutrients, like those found in added sugar products, instead of essential nutrients, their overall health and wellness may suffer. It is important to keep track of one’s diet, know the ingredients in consumed foods and drinks, and have self discipline when eating sugary foods.