It is no secret that a high-sugar diet can have adverse effects on one’s health. For example, too much added sugar has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, reduced “good” cholesterol, inflammation, insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart disease. This does not mean that all sugar is bad, but the sugars found in sodas are not the same as those in a banana.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
Natural vs. Added Sugar: What’s the Difference?
Natural sugars are naturally occurring in whole foods like fruit that come with added health benefits such as fiber and antioxidants. Foods with natural sugars tend to be low in calories and sodium, and high in water content, and many important vitamins and minerals.
Added sugars are added during the processing of packaged foods and do not provide any nutrients (besides calories). Added sugars include the high fructose corn syrup lurking in ketchups and breads, as well as the honey or agave you might add to a mug of tea or smoothie.
FACT – Honey is made up of glucose and fructose. It is commonly believed that honey is a healthier alternative to sugar but this isn’t true, honey is sugar. Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and rice malt syrup are all in the added sugars club and need to be restricted.
How to Spot Added Sugars in Processed Foods
Just because you stay away from obviously sweet foods like cake, cookies, doughnuts, and candy does not mean you’re still not consuming sugar. Added sugars hide in a number of foods such as processed frozen foods, baby food, dried fruit, cereal, granola, instant oatmeal, salad dressings, ketchup, barbecue sauces, pasta sauces, flavored yogurt, protein bars, and more. They’re also found in organic foods and plenty of foods you’ll find at the health stores.
The good news is that tallying up “added sugars” on packaged foods is now easier because the Nutrition Facts label now includes “added sugars” underneath the “total sugars” heading.
Sugar goes by more than 60 different names if we’re talking about what’s listed on nutrition labels. Here are a few of them.
Brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, rice syrup, dextrose, maltose, barley malt, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, sucrose, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, and molasses.
To identify an added sugar on food labels, look for words that end with “-ose,” as well as phrases that contain “syrup” or “malt.” Keep in mind ingredients packaged foods are listed in descending order in terms of weight, so when you see these names at the top of the ingredients list, the product contains a lot of sugar.
Can You Overdo It on Naturally Occurring Sugars?
Like any component of a diet, you can overdo it on sugar, even if it’s naturally occurring. But, most people can stay in the healthy range when it comes to natural sugars if they focus on choosing whole foods over processed ones, for example, try a few slices of fresh fruit on a peanut butter sandwich instead of jelly or jam, which likely has extra added sugar and focus on eating a well-balanced diet.