Hidden Sugar in Your Food
Sugar is everywhere, almost impossible to avoid. It’s in foods like bread, pasta sauce, salad dressing, and ketchup. It can be challenging to find sugar in your food because nutrition labels are not required to list all sugar. In 2018, nutrition labels will be required to call out all added sugar but, in the meantime, you’ll have to do some sugar sleuthing to manage your sugar intake.
The Institute of Medicine has made recommendations for sugar intake. Since sugar isn’t a required nutrient in the diet, the institute has not issued a recommended dietary allowance, but does suggest that no more than 25 percent of calories come from added sugars. For a 2,000 calorie diet that is about 500 calories per day. The American Heart Association has issued much more conservative guidelines: for women, no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar, or about 6 teaspoons. For men, no more than 150 calories daily, or 9 teaspoons.
Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if sugar is in the top three ingredients, the product is made mostly of sugar. Don’t stop there because there might be other forms of sugar added to the product. If there are two or more types of sugar on the ingredient list, put it back! Since it’s not always easy to identify sugar on a label, here are some tips to help you identify sugar in your food.
Words ending in -ose are usually sugar. Dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, saccharose, and sucrose, just to name a few, are sugar components. For example, fruit is composed of fructose and glucose. These types of sugars are mostly found in packaged and processed foods in order to improve the taste.
Natural sweeteners. Honey, agave, molasses, evaporated cane juice, and malt or any syrups, nectars, and fruit juices are all basically sugar. Naturally sweetened foods are still loaded with added sugar, even if it is “natural.”
Artificial sweeteners. While not the same as sugar, artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain and could cause other health issues when eaten in large quantities. If you are concerned about the health issues related to artificial sweeteners, avoid aspartame, ascelfame-K, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose.
Even if you are in good health and maintaining a healthy weight, there are good reasons to limit sugar in your diet to stay healthy. Limiting sugar can keep your brain sharp. Research shows that eating too much sugar can impair cognitive function and reduce proteins necessary for memory and responsiveness. Limiting sugar is also good for the planet. The process of growing sugar cane requires a lot of water and can be destructive to the habitat in which it grows.