Most Americans Are Overeating Sugar, Are You?

I have written several times about the importance of limiting added sugars in the diet, and this month another article came out in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, once again confirming these recommendations.  “Added sugars” are defined as the sugar used in processed and prepared foods (i.e. sodas, cakes, ice cream) and the sugar added to foods at the table or eaten separately.  Added sugars do not include the sugar (lactose) naturally found in dairy products or the sugar (fructose) found in fruit.

According to continued scientific evidence, high sugar consumption is associated with weight gain, increasing risk of becoming overweight or obese.  It also associated with an increased risk of heart disease because of it s negative impact on cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

The American Heart Association recommends that women should limit their daily added sugars to 100 calories of sugar per day, which equals around 6 tsp or 25 gm of sugar.  Men should limit their consumption to 150 calories per day, which equals approximately 9 tsp or 38 gm of sugar.  Currently, the average American adult consumes about 21 ½  tsp per day according to the data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey , and this number has doubled since 1978.

Unfortunately, it can be tricky to know how many “added sugars” are in some of the foods we eat because food labels do not distinguish between added sugars and those that are naturally found in the food.  To know if there are added sugars in your foods, try the following tips:

  • Anything with the following ingredients on the food label has added sugars:

o   Syrup (corn syrup, corn-syrup solids, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, agave syrup, brown-rice syrup, etc.)

o   Sugar (white, brown or raw)

o   Fructose sweetener or liquid fructose

o   Honey or Molasses

o   Anhydrous dextrose or crystal dextrose

  • If the product contains milk or fruit, compare the plain product to the sweetened version to determine added sugars.  (You do not need to worry about the sugars that naturally occur in fruit or milk).

o   Example:  Compare the amount of sugar in a flavored yogurt to that of plain yogurt.  The difference will give you the amount of “added sugars”.

o   Example 2: Compare flavored oatmeal to plain oatmeal to determine the added sugars.

  • If a product does not contain fruit or dairy, most of the sugars are “added sugars”

Because so many foods found in the American food supply have added sugars, cutting back can seem overwhelming.  However, cutting back on just a few types of foods can make a big difference.  Nearly half of the added sugars in the typical American diet come from sugary beverages (i.e. sodas, sports drinks) and another 13% come from grained-based desserts (i.e. cookies, cakes).  Dairy desserts, candy and sugary cereals are the other top offenders.

The best way to cut back on added sugar is to eliminate sweetened beverages.   Next, think of desserts as treats that you have 1-2 times per week, not daily.  On a day-to-day basis, limit “added sugars” to those found in foods with nutritional value.  For example, a little honey added to plain yogurt or a little brown sugar in your oatmeal can help increase the consumption of healthy foods and is the best way to use the added sugars.  Most people aren’t as likely to go overboard with sugars when they are part of nutrient-dense foods.  Don’t forget that fruit can be a great natural sweetener too!

Reference: Johnson, R,  Yon, B “Weighing in on Added Sugars and Health”.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  September 2010.