How To Avoid Added Sugar
Katie Swisher B.S. in Food Science
Do you REALLY know how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis? If you’re one of the many frustrated health-conscious Americans who has done your research and knows how to navigate food labels, ROCK ON!
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine not only the amount of added sugar in a packaged food product but also whether or not added sugar even exists in the product. The food industry has made it very confusing for consumers to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Just as the name implies, naturally occurring sugars are naturally present in unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy. Added sugars are added by the manufacturer while a food product is being processed (1). Along with processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, manufacturers will also add natural sweeteners, like honey and unrefined cane sugar to food products. However, these natural sweeteners are still considered added sugars.
Added sugars have been proven to cause adverse effects on health when consumed in excess. Dietary guidelines recommend that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar per day and men no more than 9 teaspoons per day (36 grams) (2). The average American consumes about 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) of added sugar per day, about 2 or 3 times the recommended amount (3)! Studies have shown that the odds of dying from heart disease raises as the percentage of added sugar consumed on a daily basis is increased. Added sugar is also empty calories and nutrition-less. It fails to deliver any vitamins, minerals or fiber and it’s directly linked to weight gain. With 1 in 10 Americans getting 25% of their daily calories from added sugar, it’s not surprising that our country is facing a serious obesity epidemic (4). Natural sugars such as honey or unrefined cane sugar may have a slightly better nutrition profile than refined sugar but they will still spike your blood sugar levels just as fast as refined sugars and should also be consumed in moderation (5).
These are just a few of the reasons why we need to understand how to locate sugar on food labels and know just how much added sugar we’re consuming. Is it hiding in the processed foods that you’re buying? Let’s find out. Below are some important facts and tips that will make it easier for you to keep track of the amount of sugar that you’re consuming.
Added sugar isn’t always listed as just “sugar” in the ingredients list.
There are 61 different names for sugar that companies use on their food labels including high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrose, corn syrup and several other names that most people would not associate with sugar (3). Moreover, "sugar free" does not mean "sweetener free" (10). Approximately 60% of items in the average American grocery store contain added sugar (9) This makes it nearly impossible for consumers to determine how much sugar is naturally occurring in the product and how much sugar the manufacturer added. However, between consumers demanding healthier options and the scientific evidence surrounding the health consequences of consuming too many added sugars, the FDA recently took a step in the right direction.
On May 20th, 2016, the FDA announced a new nutrition facts label to be used for packaged foods. One of the major changes is the addition of an “added sugars” line right underneath “total sugars”. This will allow the consumer to determine exactly how many grams of sugar the manufacturer added and how many occur naturally in the product (6). Examples of foods that contain naturally occurring sugars are fruit, dairy and vegetables. The new nutrition facts label will be especially useful when purchasing products made from these foods that typically contain natural sugars.
Another important tip to keep in mind is to never shop by health claims; ALWAYS shop by the nutrition facts label. Marketing and health claims found on packaged foods are another BIG reason why consumers don’t know what’s hiding in their foods or the reason they think they’re eating a healthy product. Let’s use fruit and vegetable based products as an example. There can be a lot of confusion surrounding products that manufacturers claim to be “sweetened or flavored with real fruit”. The next time you’re at the grocery store, examine the juice aisle. You will surely notice that a majority of juices contain added sugars rather than simply 100% fruit or vegetable juices.
For example, V8 Splash is a vegetable and fruit based juice that is marketed to be a healthy addition to one’s diet. The manufacturer covers the label with big pictures of fresh fruit and stamps it with a big “antioxidants” claim. It’s made from fruits and vegetables so it must be healthy, right? Not so. Here’s the full ingredient list to the Berry Blend flavor of V8 Splash: “WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, RECONSTITUTED VEGETABLE JUICE (WATER AND CONCENTRATED JUICE OF (CARROTS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF: RECONSTITUTED FRUIT JUICE BLEND (WATER AND CONCENTRATED JUICES OF (APPLES, CHERRIES, STRAWBERRIES, RED RASPBERRIES, BLACKBERRIES), NATURAL FLAVORING, CITRIC ACID, MALIC ACID, VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID), RED 40, SUCRALOSE.” (7) According to the FDA, manufacturers list ingredients by weight in “descending order of predominance” (8). This tells us that this juice is primarily sweetened with high fructose corn syrup rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, most consumers would never guess that by looking at the front of the label.
Another aspect that makes it difficult for consumers to determine the amount of added sugars that they’re consuming is that the nutrition labels are written in grams. A useful tip to remember when checking the sugar content of packaged goods is that 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar is equal to 4 grams of sugar. If a granola bar has 16 grams of sugar, simply imagine 4 teaspoons of sugar going into that bar. That’s quite a bit! This is a helpful tip for consumers who are used to working with teaspoons, tablepoons and cups rather than grams, meters and liters.
With all of the sugar hiding in our food supply, it’s a relief to find products like SaladPower. SaladPower contain zero added sugar and has a great nutritional profile; all the more reason to drop your fork and drink your salad! We hope that the information presented makes it easier for you as a consumer to identify sugar in packaged foods and understand the importance of reading the nutrition facts label. Get to know the different names that are used for sugar, remember that 1 teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4 grams of sugar and shop by the nutrition facts label rather than the health claims on the front of the package. Inform yourself as much as possible. Happy added sugar-free shopping!
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