Natural sugar vs. added sugar
There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are in foods such as fruit (called fructose) and in milk (lactose). Added sugars are those added to food or drinks during preparation or processing.
The average American eats more than 60 lbs. of added sugar per year. The major offenders are soft drinks, candy, cake, cookies, pies, ice cream, processed food and many types of store-bought fruit juice. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that sugar does not need to be completely eliminated from your diet. The American Heart Association’s guidelines for added sugars include these recommendations: men: 150 calories per day (37.5 g or 9 teaspoons); women: 100 calories per day (25 g or 6 teaspoons); children: preschool age, 4 teaspoons; age 4-8 years: 3 teaspoons; preteens and teens: 5-8 teaspoons.
You would think that reading a food label to see how many grams of sugar are in the product would be a good way to track how much sugar you’re eating. Here’s the problem: nutrition labels combine both the amount of naturally occurring sugar and added sugar to determine the sugar content. So products that contain milk or unprocessed fruit will have some natural sugars in the measurement. You don’t know how much is natural and how much is added.
In addition to the total grams of sugar listed on the nutrition label, it’s important to read the ingredient label carefully to see if there are added sugars. There are many different names for added sugar in a product, including: corn syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, malt sugar, raw sugar, sugar, syrup, and products ending in “ose’ (glucose, dextrose fructose, lactose maltose, sucrose).
Here are some hints to help you decipher the language of sugar content on food labels: sugar free (contains <0.5 g of added sugars), reduced sugar (contains at least 25% fewer sugars per serving when compared to the standard product), no added sugar, without added sugar (no sugars or sugar-containing ingredients have been added).
When you look at the label and see 12 grams of total sugar, how do you determine how many calories in a serving are from sugar? There are four calories per gram of sugar. Multiply the number of grams by four and you will get the number of calories of total sugar per serving. For example: 12 g x 4 = 48 calories. However, you still don’t know exactly how many calories are coming from added sugar. Even so, this can be valuable information when trying to limit the amount of sugar in your diet.
We should care about added sugar in our diet because too much can contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Many things are toxic when consumed in large amounts, including water. This doesn’t mean we need to stop drinking water or cut out sugar entirely. Moderation is key. Watch for more on sugar in next month’s column.
SUSAN LOCKE is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.
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