What are “added sugars”? Where do they come from? What does it all mean? How much should we have? These are all great questions. Let me try to explain.
Sugar can come in many forms and those that are not naturally found in the food are considered added sugars. This means, it has been added during the processing, packaging, or preparation of any foods and beverages. Ultimately, added sugars are only going to be found in prepared foods, not unprepared whole foods (like vegetables, fruit and milk). Examples of foods that may have added sugars are breads, baked goods, crackers, food bars, beverages, cereals, granola, yogurts, sauces, salad dressings, candy, and desserts. You can also add sugar yourself to foods or beverages with honey, agave nectar, or syrup to name a few.
The issue with added sugar is simply, it is added sugar. This means it adds calories, has a high glycemic index, and really has no true health benefits. Added sugars are correlated with the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, poor dental health, fatty liver, depression, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and of course, spikes blood glucose when already living with diabetes. For those who have to manage hypoglycemia, this is why we treat lows with simple sugars, it brings our numbers up quickly.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that added sugars be less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This is the same as, less than 50g or 12 tsp of sugar each day for a 2000 calorie per day diet. Of course, if you are on lower or higher calorie diet, that number would change. The American Heart Association recommends men to eat less than 36g (9 tsp) per day and women to have less than 24g (6 tsp) per day of added sugars. Basically, the less added sugar you have in your diet, the better.
So how much added sugar is in commonly eaten foods? Here are some examples:
|Food||Added Sugar Content|
|1 teaspoon sugar||4g|
|1 tablespoon ketchup||4g|
|1 fig bar||12g|
|1c of sweetened cereal||12g|
|2 tablespoons BBQ sauce||14g|
|1 tablespoon honey||17g|
|6oz flavored yogurt||18g|
|20oz bottle sports drink||30g|
|1c vanilla ice cream||32g|
|1 can regular soda||40g|
|1 slice chocolate cake||49g|
Some of you may have noticed the new food label being released. This will happen in stages depending on the company size over the next few years, with all food labels to be transitioned by 2021. The new food label now has “added sugar” under total sugar. Total sugar is both the natural sugars found in the food, plus the added sugar discussed above. The added sugars will now be designated separately. The intention for doing this, was so consumers could make more informed choices about their food and beverages.
A good way to use food labels is to keep an eye on the percent daily value. If a food is low, it will have less than 5% of the nutrient and if a food is high, it will have greater than 20% of the nutrient. Always remember to check the portion size, as the nutrient breakdown is only for one serving. Let’s take a look at the example food label included:
This mystery food has a serving size of 2/3 cup (that is a measuring cup, not a beverage cup or a mug). One serving has 10g of added sugar or 20% daily value. That means, that the mystery food is high in added sugar, as there is 20% daily value. Keep in mind, if you eat more than one serving, let’s say you ate 1 1/3 cup of this mystery food, that would be 2 servings and therefore, 40% daily value or 40% of the amount of added sugar you should eat in one day.
Hopefully this helps, but the truth is, there is still a few more years until all foods will have the new food label. In the meantime, you can check the list of ingredients to understand if a food has added sugar.
Food ingredient lists are listed in descending order by weight. So the first ingredient makes up the most in that food, the second is the second most, the third is the third most, and so on. You can check food ingredient lists for added sugars and scope out how far up it is on the list. Added sugars come in many forms and names. Below is a cheat sheet (feel free to print it out and bring it with you to the store) for different names of added sugars. Many prepared foods will contain multiple types of added sugar so, read carefully.
|Agave nectar||Dextrose||Maple syrup|
|Anhydrous dextrose||Evaporated cane juice||Molasses|
|Beet sugar||Fructose||Pancake syrup|
|Brown rice syrup||Fruit juice concentrates||Powdered sugar|
|Brown sugar||Fruit nectars||Raw sugar|
|Cane crystals||Glucose||Rice syrup|
|Coconut palm sugar||High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)||Sucrose|
|Confectioners powdered sugar||Honey||Sugar|
|Corn sweetener||Invert sugar||Sugar cane syrup|
|Corn syrup||Lactose||Table sugar|
|Corn syrup solids||Maltose||Turbinado|
|Crystalline fructose||Malt syrup||White granulated sugar|
To avoid confusion, non-nutritive sweeteners and sugar alcohols like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, stevia, monk fruit sweetener, erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol are not considered added sugars. These substitutes do not effect the body in the same way as added sugars and is an entirely different discussion.
Food labels can be confusing. But the take home message is, added sugars of any type, should be limited for overall health, well-being, and glycemic control. You can try adding whole foods to your choices for sweetness (like putting fresh fruit in your oatmeal or plain yogurt). Hopefully, this helps simplify the scoop on added sugars.