The Truth about Sugar is Bittersweet
Everybody knows cutting sugar from their diet starts with putting the kibosh on cookies, cakes and candies. But pasta sauce, wheat bread and saltine crackers? There’s sugar in these savory and salty items? Sweet sabotage!
Blame the hidden culprit of “added sugar.”
“Sugar is added to all kinds of foods,” says Archana Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., internist at the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Green Valley. “It can enhance taste and improve flavor, but so much extra sugar in our diet increases our risk of getting diabetes and heart disease.”
A high-sugar diet also increases the odds of tooth decay, liver disease and weight gain.
Most people aren’t aware that sugar has been added to many unlikely foods, Dr. Goyal notes. According to sugarscience.org, added sugar can be found in 74 percent of all packaged foods. Gram by gram, it adds up. The average American may unwittingly consume as many as 66 pounds of it a year.
How much is too much?
There’s no set limit to daily consumption of sugar in its naturally occurring form—fluid milk and milk products (lactose) and fresh fruit (fructose), according to Dr. Goyal.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day, or 25 grams, and men should only consume nine teaspoons, or 38 grams. Children should be limited to between three and six teaspoons, or from 12 to 25 grams per day.
A high-sugar diet increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart diease, tooth decay, liver disease and weight gain.
Sugar is typically added during food preparation, either by you in your kitchen or at the processing plant. “I have a favorite recipe for acorn squash soup that calls for three tablespoons of sugar,” Dr. Goyal notes. “I don’t add it, and don’t miss it.”
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food producers label all ingredients in their foods, manufacturers are not required to say if the total includes added sugar. And, because added sugar comes under many different names—high fructose corn syrup, corn or rice syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, panocha and sorghum—it may be hard for the average consumer to know just how much sugar they are consuming.
How can you start cutting back?
Start slowly, Dr. Goyal recommends. If you normally add two packets of sugar to your morning coffee, cut it back to just one for a few days, and then a half packet. Check to see if the creamer you use has added sugar, too. You may want to switch to almond milk or regular milk.
Get in the habit of reading food labels and become familiar with grams and how they translate into teaspoons. For example, 29 grams of sugar equals seven teaspoons. A 12-ounce can of soda has 46.2 grams, or 11 teaspoons of sugar. But, surprisingly, a leading brand of organic Greek yogurt contains 29 grams of sugar, or seven teaspoons.
Avoiding sugary sodas is a great start, but also look out for added sugar in enhanced waters, bottled iced teas, energy drinks, bottled coffee drinks, and store-bought smoothies.
Ingredients are listed on food labels in order of how much exists in the product, so if sugar is near the top, that could be a problem.
Become familiar with all the different names for added sugar. There are at least 60 of them, and they are listed at sugarscience.org.
“Look for foods that are unsweetened, or are not processed,” Dr. Goyal recommends. “They will have fewer chemicals in them, including sugars. And, eat lots of fresh fruit and raw vegetables. All-natural food is always better.”
Blog Offers Diabetes Advice
Diabetes may be a growing epidemic among Americans, but the good news is that it is preventable. A newly launched blog, written by Collette DaCruz, R.N. (left), a certified diabetes educator at the Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology, offers valuable tips for patients on how they can manage and perhaps even prevent their disease.
Check out the Living with Diabetes 101 blog at www.northbay.org/blog/diabetes.
Sugar & Diabetes
People with diabetes are already focused on their daily intake of sugar, but they also need to focus on carbohydrates, says Deborah Murrray, M.D., endocrinologist and medical director for NorthBay Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology.
Our bodies turn carbohydrates into sugar, so if a label says something has 19 grams of carbohydrates, that will translate into 19 grams of sugar.
One way to satisfy that sweet tooth is to turn to fruit. It’s a healthy snack for everyone, including diabetics. It is a natural source of sugar, and contains fiber, lots of vitamins and minerals. But, because fruits also contain carbohydrates, people with diabetes need to account for it in their daily meal plans.
Talk to your dietitian, diabetes educator or health care professional for ways to incorporate low and reduced sugar foods into your diet.