By Karin Boode, PhD
There is a fair chance that you are eating and drinking more sugar than ever, because sugar is added to more and more foods these days. Desserts, sodas and sports drinks are the top sources of added sugar in most American diets, but there are many more foods to be wary of. Good examples are salad dressing and ketchup.
Foods high in added sugar can be a great source of energy when exercising, but for the most part they are low in nutritional value and do little more than increase the calories in your diet.
Does that mean that you should avoid all sugar? Not really. I already stated that when doing strenuous exercises, sugar can be a welcome energy source. Furthermore, sugar does occur naturally in certain healthy foods.
For example, any food that grows on a plant has natural sugar in it. A perfect example is fruit. Even sour fruits, like citrus or kiwis, have a sweet undertone. This is because of the natural sugars found in the fruit. Depending on the ripeness of the fruit, there will be different amounts of sugar.
Another common natural sugar is lactose (also called milk sugar), which is found in milk and milk products. Although lactose does not have the sweetness of sugar, it is full of natural sugars.
All sugar, whether natural or processed, is a type of simple carbohydrate that serves as a source of energy for your body. In processed foods, added sugar as many functions:
- it boosts flavor
- It balances the acidity of foods
- it helps preserve foods such as jams and jellies
- It serves as a bulking agent in baked goods and ice cream
- It fuels fermentation, which enables bread to rise
- It gives baked goods texture and color
The American Heart Association has specific guidelines for added sugar. The recommend no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) of added sugar for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men. In case you were wondering, most Americans have more than 355 calories (22 teaspoons) of added sugar a day.
Sugar goes by many different names, depending on the source and how it was made. This can be confusing, so I have added a list of common types of sugar to the bottom of this article. The list is long, but realize that there is no nutritional advantage over white sugar, if you eat honey, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, or any other type of sugar.
In next weeks article I will discuss how the sugar alternatives stack up against regular sugar.
Healthy Habits to reduce the added sugar In your diet:
- Eliminate sugary (especially non-diet) sodas and limit fruit juice and fruit drinks. Even though 100% fruit juice has no added sugar, it is still sugar you are drinking, which will add calories to your diet. Be wary of tea and coffee with flavored syrup, sugar and sweet toppings. Instead drink more milk and water.
- Snack on vegetables, fruit, and cheese instead of candy, pastries and cookies
- If you choose canned fruit, make sure it is packed in water, not syrup.
- Choose breakfast cereals that are nutritious, not sugary and non-frosted.
- Be careful with salad dressings, ketchup, salsas etc. Read the labels!
- Eat fewer processed and packaged foods
List of common types of (added) sugar:
- Brown sugar. Granulated white sugar with added molasses for flavor and color, commonly used in baking.
- Cane juice and cane syrup. Sugar from processed sugar cane. Further processing produces brown or white solid cane sugar.
- Confectioners’ sugar. Granulated white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder, sometimes with a small amount of cornstarch. Commonly used in icings and whipped toppings.
- Corn sweeteners and corn syrup. Corn sugars and corn syrups made from corn and processed cornstarch.
- Dextrose. Another name for glucose.
- Fructose. Sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and honey.
- Fruit juice concentrate. A form of sugar made when water is removed from whole juice to make it more concentrated.
- Glucose. A simple sugar that provides your body’s main source of energy. Also called blood sugar because it circulates in your blood.
- Granulated white sugar. This is table sugar, or pure crystallized sucrose, made by processing raw sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. It’s commonly used in baking or to sweeten tea or coffee.
- High fructose corn syrup. The most common sweetener in processed foods and beverages, this is a combination of fructose and glucose made by processing corn syrup.
- Honey. A mix of glucose, fructose and sucrose created from nectar made by bees.
- Invert sugar. Used as a food additive to preserve freshness and prevent shrinkage, this is a mix of fructose and glucose made by processing sucrose.
- Lactose. Sugar that occurs naturally in milk.
- Maltose. Starch and malt broken down into simple sugars and used commonly in beer, bread and baby food.
- Malt syrup. A grain syrup made from evaporated corn mash and sprouted barley.
- Molasses. The thick, dark syrup that’s left after sugar beets or sugar cane is processed for table sugar.
- Sucrose. The chemical name for granulated white sugar (table sugar).
- Syrup. Sugar comes in many forms of syrup, a thick, sweet liquid that can be made from the processing of sugar or from sugar cane, grains such as corn or rice, maple sap, and other sources.
White sugar. Same as granulated white sugar (table sugar).