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Sugar Can Appear in Sneaky Ways

Last updated: January 16, 2023

By limiting the amount of highly processed food you eat, you’ll go a long way toward cutting back on added sugars.

Ashley Krautkramer, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, ThedaCare

The average American consumes more than 17 teaspoons of added sugar each day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That’s nearly double what most of us should eat. It adds about an extra 275 calories to a daily diet and contributes to increased rates of weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

There are two types of sugar, says Ashley Krautkramer, ThedaCare Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. Natural sugars are found in fruits, some vegetables and milk. Added sugars are incorporated into food products to improve their taste or increase their shelf life.

“Natural sugars are not a concern,” she says. “Added sugars are the ones we should avoid because they provide no nutritional benefit and contribute to weight gain and other health problems.”

The AHA offer the following guidelines for added sugar intake:

  • Men — 9 teaspoons per day (150 calories or 36 grams)
  • Women — 6 teaspoons per day (100 calories or 25 grams)
  • Children and teens — 6 teaspoons per day (100 calories or 25 grams)
  • Children under age 2 should not consume added sugars in their diets

Krautkramer says added sugars are most often found in sugar-sweetened beverages, specialty coffee drinks, desserts and sweet snacks. Those include cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, ice cream, frozen dairy desserts, doughnuts, sweet rolls and pastries.

Added sugar also can be found in cereal, granola, yogurt, energy bars, baked goods, juice, salad dressings, sauces, ketchup and even diet or fat-free foods, Krautkramer says. One 12-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams of added sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers candy bar contains 30 grams of added sugar.

A Sneaky Ingredient

Krautkramer says the key to avoiding added sugar is reading labels. Since 2018, the Food and Drug Administration has mandated that most packaged foods list the amount of added sugar in grams, which can help you stick to the AHA guidelines.

Sugar has many names, including high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit nectar, glucose, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses and raw sugar.

“As much as possible, you want to limit eating any products containing these ingredients,” Krautkramer says.

It’s estimated that 75% of all packaged and frozen foods, other than frozen fruits and vegetables, contain some added sugars. Vegan, gluten-free and organic products also often contain added sugars.

“By limiting the amount of highly processed food you eat, you’ll go a long way toward cutting back on added sugars,” Krautkramer says.

Tips for Kicking the Habit

The AHA offers these suggestions for reducing sugar consumption:

  • Toss the table sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses. Cut back on the amount of sugar you add to items you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
  • Swap out the soda. Water is best, but if you want something sweet to drink or are trying to lose weight, diet drinks can be a better choice than sugary drinks. You can also try flavored seltzer if you want a sugar-free alternative with fizz.
  • Eat fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits. Choose fruit canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup. Drain and rinse in a colander to remove excess syrup or juice.
  • Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Dairy and fruit products will contain some natural sugars. Added sugars can be identified in the ingredients list.
  • Add fruit. Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, try fresh fruit (bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
  • Cut back the serving. When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Try extracts. Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts like almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Replace it completely. Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Substitute. Switch out sugar with unsweetened applesauce in recipes.

When it comes to kids, it’s important to avoid using sugary treats as rewards for kids. “Think of it this way: When children may not have access to sweets regularly, they often want them more because it’s seen as a ‘restriction.’ It’s best to have a neutral attitude toward sugar. Rather than giving kids unlimited access to sugary foods, it is recommended to serve them with meals or snacks, alongside other foods,” Krautkramer says.

Ultimately, it’s important to be mindful of how much of the sweet stuff you’re consuming. However, it’s OK to have some sugar — especially natural sugar — as part of your diet, Krautkramer says.

“If we are relatively active, we will burn off our sugar intake,” she says. “If you find yourself craving something sweet, consider eating fruit or nuts. Those foods will reduce your urge for something sweet and will provide better nutrition.”

Learn more about weight loss solutions available through ThedaCare.

Tags: diabetes healthy eating Sugar sweeteners Weight Management

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