We always hear about sugar and how bad it is for us. The question is: What is sugar? Why is it bad? And where is sugar hiding?
Technically speaking, sugar is a simple carbohydrate that our body uses for energy. Sugar is naturally occurring in foods such as fruits and milk products. Sugar is also added to a lot of processed foods, soft drinks, fruit drinks, etc., to enhance flavor.
The difference between the sugar in fruit and milk products, compared to the sugar that is added to foods and beverages, is that the foods and beverages that contain naturally occurring sugar have other benefits. For example, even though fruit has 'fruit sugar' in it, fruit is also a source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Given the option of a candy bar and a cup of raspberries, the cup of raspberries would be a better choice because not only are you putting energy into your body, you are also getting beneficial nutrients. So, while we shouldn't go crazy with fruit, milk, and yogurt, it's the added sugars that we want to work on subtracting from our diet. In our culture, most of the problems we have with excessive sugar intake is not from too much fruit or milk products, but from the added sugars.
Too much of this added sugar can easily lead to weight gain. Drinking sodas and eating candy bars every day can quickly pack on the pounds and increase risk for chronic diseases associated with overweight, obesity, and out-of-balance eating habits. These include diabetes and heart disease.
To better identify if the sugars in food/beverages are natural or added, you might need to do some investigating on the ingredient list. Common names of added sugars include:
- high fructose corn syrup
- cane sugar
- raw sugar, sugar
- dextrose (and other words ending in-ose).
Foods and beverages that are high in added sugar include sodas, fruit 'drinks', some baked goods (cakes, cookies, etc.), ice cream, sweetened cereals, and candy, of course. Read those ingredients!
How much added sugar should we be consuming? The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 100-150 calories per day (6-9 teaspoons worth). A 32-oz Coke from McDonalds has 310 calories and over 21 teaspoons of sugar! It is important to think about what we are actually feeding our bodies and if there is a better alternative or if we could, at the very least, consume smaller serving sizes.
Here are some steps that can help you subtract added sugars from your diet:
- Begin to read labels for added sugars - focus on the ingredient list.
- Check fruit 'drinks' for actual amount of fruit juice. Hawaiian Punch and Capri Sun may have pictures of fruit on the front, but very little actual fruit is inside!
- Substitute one 20 oz. water for one sugar-sweetened beverage (like soda) every day.
- Choose water only when eating out; it will save you money too!
Hal Hendricks is the director of the Sumner County Health Department.