We’ve all heard the line “too much of a good thing,” but what if that thing is hiding in places we didn’t even realize?
Although sugar is meant to sweeten things up, it can actually be bittersweet when it comes to your health.
According to the National Cancer Institute, each day adults take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugars, which are sugars that do not occur naturally in foods. That equals about 384 calories daily from added sugar alone.
Why should those numbers be alarming to you? Well, research suggests that excess added sugar intake will not only lead to weight gain but contributes to a host of other health problems including: high blood pressure, diabetes, cavities, and even fatty liver disease. Increased heart disease risk has also been linked to a higher intake of added sugar.
What is the difference between natural and added sugars?
Well, for starters, sugar is naturally occurring in all foods that contain carbohydrates. For instance, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy all contain carbohydrates. However, these whole food sources also contain fiber, vitamins and minerals and even antioxidants.
Dairy foods also contain protein and calcium. These foods have actually been shown to decrease your risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
It’s the foods that contain added sugars we need to be careful about.
Those include foods such as sodas, sports drinks, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy and fruit drinks. Often, people end up drinking more of their sugar intake than eating and can easily forget how much sugar they’ve already consumed. These “liquid calories” contribute to weight gain because those calories are not as satisfying as eating solid foods, so our body’s appetite control system ends up turning off, leading us to consume more.
So, what are some key phrases to look for next time you are shopping to avoid excess amount of added sugar? Reading a food label is key to monitoring your sugar intake. Look to cut back or avoid foods altogether where you frequently see these words: high-fructose corn syrup, juice concentrate, brown sugar, honey or any sugar syrup such as fructose, glucose, or dextrose. Be especially mindful in foods marketed for kids. It may say “no high fructose corn syrup” but may still contain corn syrup or juice concentrate, which is high in added sugar.
You can make some easy swaps in the New Year for healthier alternatives to added sugars. Consider swapping sweetened beverages for fruit-infused water or unsweetened seltzer water, look for cereals containing less than 5 grams of sugar per serving and keeping a food diary to help you determine where your sugar intake might be hiding. Consider eating whole foods such as fruit instead of drinking a fruit juice version.
Another option is to look for recipes that are sweetened or flavored with ingredients such as spices or herbs instead of excess sugars. Give these lemon-herb shortbread cookies a try this holiday season for a surprisingly sweet treat low in added sugars.
Carin Booth is the family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County. She can be reached at 770-535-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column publishes monthly.