Sour news on the sugar front

The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement this week on sugar. We’re eating too much and it’s not doing our health any good. According to the AHA, women should have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day in their diets; men… no more than 9. Interesting, but what does that mean given that you’re probably not sprinkling teaspoons of sugar on your food?

Answer: It means somebody else is.

The biggest sources of added sugars in our diet are regular soft drinks and candy.

Not groundbreaking information I know. But, sugars (teaspoons upon teaspoons of it) are added into lots of other foods. Here are a few tips for spotting the sweet stuff and guidelines for making some healthful choices.

1) Look at ingredient labels on foods and Nutrition Facts labels. Check for sugar and words that mean added sugar. (Note: the more “sugar” words on the list, the more added sugar in the food—the closer these words are to the top of the list, the more sugar in the food). Sugar aliases:
  • Cane juice
  • Corn sweetener, syrup or corn syrup solids
  • Dextrin or dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrups (malt, maple, rice, etc.)
  • Xylose

2) Look at the Nutrition Facts panel on a package. See if there’s a line for “Sugars.” This line tells you (in grams) how much sugar is in the food. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily make a distinction between sugars added to the food and sugars that are naturally there (fruits and milk have naturally-occurring sugar in them). But, it does give you a sense of how much sugar is in the food. Compare products to find those lower in “sugars.”

3) Do the math. Four grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar or the amount of sugar in one of those little packets you get in restaurants. If a product’s Nutrition Facts panel says there are 28 grams of sugar in the food, then it contains the equivalent of 7 teaspoons/packets of sugar per serving. If that same product contains real fruit or is a dairy food (think yogurt, chocolate milk, cereal with dried fruit), cut it some slack. Some of the sugars in the food are naturally-occurring and naturally good for you.

4) Watch out for the sneaky stuff. No surprise that regular sodas and candy have sugar and are major sources of sugar in our diet. But… cereals, teas, coffees and fruit drinks can be sugar havens too. One-half cup of some cereals can contain 3 teaspoons of sugar, some tea, coffee and fruit drinks have 9-15 teaspoons depending on the size you choose.

5) Set some limits. As you dive into food labels, try to select foods using these general guidelines:

  • Cereal bars - < (less than) 6 grams of sugar/100 calories – unless the bar has dried fruit in it
  • Energy bars - < 20 grams/bar
  • Ready-to-eat and hot cereals - < 8 grams unless cereal has dried fruit in it
  • Flavored milk - < 20 grams per 8-ounce serving
  • Juice drinks – choose 100% juice – no added sugars
  • Yogurt and yogurt drinks < 30 grams of sugar unless yogurt contains real fruit