Think you’ve got it under control when it comes to sugar?
According to the USDA, Americans consume about 150 pounds of added sugar each year, one-third of which comes from refined table sugar, or sucrose. The rest is sugar in disguise.
Sugar has no real nutritional value and a load of dangerous health risks associated with it, so it’s important to limit your intake. Easier said than done when you consider just where sugar is hiding out.
#1: Disguised Names on Ingredient Lists
On an ingredient list — you do read them, right? — ingredients are listed from most to least abundant. But don’t just look for the word “sugar.” In fact, sugar goes by several different names — corn syrup, fructose, glucose, dextrose and maltose to name a few. Anything that is labeled as “syrup” or ends in “-ose” is likely a form of sugar. The more it has (i.e. the further up in the list it appears), the more you should steer clear.
#2: Fast and Processed Foods
Refined sugar is a substance as addictive as drugs or alcohol and food manufacturers know that. They’ll inject everything from energy bars to hamburger buns with added sugar and sugar-like substances — along with other “flavors” — to keep their brand of buns or bars tasting extra-special and keep you coming back for more.
#3: Jars, Boxes, Cans and Cartons
If you thought your peanut butter or pasta sauce was safe, you should know that you might not be in the clear. Many everyday foods — from bread and crackers to cereal and yogurt — that may seem to be naturally low in sugar (or sugar-free) may actually be far from it. This scary truth provides even more reason to check the labels on anything that comes in a jar, box, can, carton or bag.
#4: Sugar-free Foods
Sugar-free claims on packaged foods can spell trouble. While sugar-free foods aren’t sweetened with the real deal, the artificial sweeteners used in place of sugar can be just as troublesome, if not more so. Not only are the long-term side effects of these chemical substances unknown, short-term they can often create sugar cravings, bloating or other unwanted side effects. What’s more, these substances are unrecognizable to the body. Not knowing how to process them, the body just treats them as it does sugar.
If you like to pile on the condiments like ketchup or salad dressings, consider going more lightly or making your own. Bottled condiments often average 1 teaspoon of added sugar per serving but can pack up to as many as 3 teaspoons.
#6: Dried Fruit
Those trying to reduce their sugar and stave off cravings will often turn to fruit to fill the void, but watch out for dried fruit, often sprinkled with added ingredients in an attempt to keep you snacking. Fresh berries, like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, are low in sugar and high in antioxidants.
Be Wary Still: Natural Sweeteners
Agave nectar, a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant and previously believed to be a healthy alternative to sugar, has come under fire recently as critics have likened it to high fructose corn syrup in content and production. However, some natural, unprocessed sweeteners like coconut sugar, yacon syrup, honey and maple syrup are still believed to be more healthful than sugar because they are lower on the glycemic index, meaning they keep blood sugar levels relatively stable. However, even these sweeteners should be used sparingly. Too much of a good thing can still bring on those pesky sugar cravings.
The Sugar Solution
Be a curious and informed consumer. Always read labels, and when in doubt, go with real whole foods.