If you want to improve your diet and health, eating less added sugar is a great place to start.
Various sugars are added to processed packaged foods as a preservative, or to add sweetness. These are different than naturally occurring sugars found in whole ingredients like dates, raisins, apples, blueberries, cheese, even bell peppers. Natural sugars are in their whole, unrefined form, close to the way they came from nature.
Added sugars have been removed from their whole form and/or have been concentrated. They are more refined than their natural source. Artificial sweeteners are also added sugars to be avoided.
How do you know if a food has added sugars?
With whole foods, it’s easy. They don’t have added sugars, only natural. They often don’t have packages or nutrition labels either. Eat more of these.
With processed packaged foods it takes more effort. Start by looking at the ingredients list on the package. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity. Food manufactures often use multiple forms of sugar. When they do, sugar isn’t always listed in the first few ingredients. Often, if you added up all the different forms, sugar would be the 1st ingredient.
Below is an ingredient list of a popular energy bar, the kind I used to eat all the time. I always made sure to stuff a couple into my family’s pockets on snowboarding days.
The added sugars are underlined and the naturally occurring sugars are starred. The concentrated apple puree is a gray area. Yes, it is just apple with natural occurring sugar, but when it's concentrated, it becomes more like an added sugar. Even if you don’t count that, there are still 7 kinds of added sugars in this bar!
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Cane Syrup, Rice Flour, Organic Almonds, Concentrated Apple Puree*, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Oat Fiber, Dried Blueberries*, Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Organic Invert Sugar Syrup, Apple Juice Concentrate, Organic Glucose Syrup, Blueberry Puree*, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Barley Malt Extract, Citric Acid, Pectin, Elderberry Juice Concentrate (for Color), Lemon Powder, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant).
Next, determine how many grams or teaspoons of sugar are in a food by looking at the nutrition facts label on the package. Some labels list grams of added sugars. If not, look under carbohydrates to find the amount of sugar in grams. Divide this number by 4 to get the teaspoons of sugar in one serving. Look at serving size, then multiply it by how many servings you are actually going to eat. Serving size is often smaller than the amount most people eat.
The energy bar above has 22 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of 5.5 tsp. This may not seem like a lot, but sugar in it’s many forms, is added to most processed packaged foods. If you’re eating many processed packaged foods, over the days, weeks, months and years, it adds up and you’re probably eating too much added sugar.
Here are some surprising foods with added sugars (I used one serving of common popular brands):
1/2 cup pasta sauce: 8 g/2 tsp
1 Tbs. ketchup: 4 g/1 tsp
5.3 oz yogurt (single serving size): 13 g/3.25 tsp
2 Tbs peanut butter: 2 g/.5 tsp
1 granola bar: 7 g/1.75 tsp
1 cup tomato basil soup: 14 g/3.5 tsp
5.3oz l yogurt: 13 g/3.25 tsp
16 whole wheat crackers: 5 g/1.25 tsp
2 Tbs ranch dressing 1 g/.25 tsp
Here are some not so surprising foods with added sugars:
1/2 oz. jelly (those little plastic packs from restaurants are 1/2oz) 8 g/2 tsp
3/4 c. honey o’s cereal 9 g/2.25 tsp
3/4 c. frosted corn flakes 10 g/2.25 tsp
12 oz Mountain Dew: 44 g/11 tsp
12 oz Pepsi: 41 g/10.35 tsp
16 ounce blended mocha: 61 g/15.25
3 chocolate and vanilla creme sandwich cookies 14 g/4.6 tsp
15 candy coated chocolate pieces 7 g/1.75 tsp
If you compare the lists above, you may be surprised that 1 cup of tomato basil soup has the same amount of added sugar as 3 chocolate sandwich cookies.
Now, take a look at this one day diet example.....
Breakfast: 1 single serving size fruit flavored yogurt with fresh berries
Snack: granola bar
Lunch: 1 can (2 cups) tomato basil soup, 16 whole wheat crackers
Snack: 16 whole wheat crackers with 2 Tbs peanut butter
Dinner: 2 cups pasta with 1 cup sauce, veggie salad with 2 Tbs ranch dressing
If this is what you ate in a day would you think you were eating too much added sugar? This day’s diet has 61 grams of added sugar. That’s 15.25 tsp. This person didn’t even eat dessert or treats. Most people would probably consider this a ‘healthy’ day.
How much is too much added sugar?
The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of an adults calories come from added sugars or natural sugars, and ideally less than 5% would. For a 2000 calorie diet that’s 50 g/12.5 tsp and 25 g/6.25 tsp.
The American Diabetes Association also recommends no more than 10% of an adults calories come from added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 g/6 tsp for women, 38 g/9 tsp for men and 12-25 g/3-6 tsp for children depending on their age and caloric needs.
By any of these standards, the seemingly “healthy” diet above has too much added sugar. The best way to avoid added sugar is to avoid processed/packaged foods. Whole fruits, veggies, meats, sea foods, dairy, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are all great options with no added sugars.
The next best option is to pay attention to ingredients and nutrition facts labels and seek out options with less or no added sugars.
Here’s a list of some added sugar names:
anhydrous dextrose, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane juice, confectioner's or powdered sugar, corn sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, date sugar, dextrose, disaccharides, evaporated corn sweetener, fructose, fruit nectar, glucose, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, invert sugar, lactose, liquid fructose, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, maltose, mannitol, maple sugar, maple syrup, molasses, nectars (e.g. peach nectar, pear nectar) pancake syrup, polysaccharides, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, white granulated sugar, turbinado sugar, succanat, sugar cane juice, sorbitol, and rice extract.
If you’d like to improve your health by eating less added sugar, a good first step
is to take an honest look at how much added sugar you’re eating. Just for one day, keep track of how much added sugar you eat. Use the guidelines in this post to help you. This can be an eye opening and motivating experience.
If you’d like more personalized, one on one help, I’d love to work with you! I’ve been through this process myself and know it’s not always easy. You can see the virtual and local service that best fits your needs and schedule online here.