Intro: Is Sugar Toxic?
Many people are pointing the finger at sugar as the toxin responsible for most of today's health problems including obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Here's the research on the sweet stuff.
How much sugar is enough?
According to the American Heart Association:
1. Men should limit their added sugars to 150 calories a day, the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar or 38 grams of sugar.
2. Women should limit their added sugars to 100 calories a day, the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar or 25 grams of sugar.
How much sugar do we consume?
?The average American consumes approximately 30 teaspoons of added sugar per day or 24% of their total calorie intake. An estimated 37 percent of added sugar comes from sweetened beverages including sodas, sugar fruit drinks, sweetened teas, energy and sports drinks. Other sources include cakes, cookies, pies, bars, candy, and sugar added to yogurt, cereal and other foods during the manufacturing process.
What are hidden sources of sugar?
Breakfast Cereal and Breakfast Bars
We've identified breakfast cereal as a source of sugar in many past Take Five segments. Your goal is to choose one with less than 8 grams of sugar. Cereal manufactures have significantly reduced their sugar content over the last 5 years so this has become much easier to do. Breakfast bars should also follow the same less than 8 grams of sugar rule. Here we have an example of a breakfast bar that contains 7 grams of sugar and a bar that contains 14 grams of sugar bar with corn syrup and sugar are the second and third ingredients.
Sports, Protein, Smoothies and Weight Loss Drinks
The basis of most sports drinks is an easily digested sugar that can enter your blood stream rapidly to fuel your exercise. This sports drink contains 14 grams of sugar and after water, sucrose and dextrose are the second and third ingredient. Many protein drinks are like liquid candy and commercially made smoothies can be just as bad. These drinks all have between 18-60 grams of sugar in them.
Fruited Yogurt and Yogurt Drinks
If your yogurt has food coloring added to it, it probably has added sugar as well. Sugar, followed by modified corn starch are the second and third ingredient on this kid's yogurt and it contains 14 grams of sugar in every ½ cup portion. Choose plain, low fat and add your own fruit and spice mixture without the food dye.
As we've said in previous Take Five Segments, choose 100% fruit juice. Adults should limit their portion to 12 ounces per day maximum, and children should limit their portions to 4-6 ounces per day. The focus should be on whole, fresh fruit.
Sauces and Salad Dressings
High fructose corn syrup is the first ingredient on our BBQ sauce and it contains 16 grams of sugar per 2 Tbsp. portion. Sugar is the third ingredient on our Spaghetti Sauce, which contains 10 grams of sugar per ½ cup portion.
Sugar is the first ingredient in our nut butter spread and it contains 21 grams of sugar per 2 Tbsp. portion. Peanut butter may contain anywhere from 0 grams of sugar found in the old fashioned kind where the fat floats to the top to 23 grams of sugar when the spiral jam or chocolate syrup through it. Sugar or high fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient in the swirl variety.
How does sugar appear on the food label?
White sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, galactose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose and dextrin just to name a few.
Currently food labels are only required to list the total grams of carbohydrate. Some companies voluntarily list the grams of sugar such as cereal, yogurt and beverage manufacturers. Unfortunately, what the label doesn't tell you is whether the sugar occurred naturally or if it was added during processing. Why is this a problem? Naturally vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals often accompany occurring sugars and antioxidants that help us fight disease and stay healthy. For example, Raisin Bran cereal has twice the sugar content of many cereals due to the natural sugar from the raisins, but that doesn't mean this high fiber, iron and potassium rich shriveled fruit isn't a healthy addition to our breakfast bowl. One medium banana contains 28 grams of sugar and one sweet potato has 7 grams of sugar, but these are created by nature and do not count toward the American Heart Associations' 25-38 grams of added sugar per day recommended limit. On the other hand, one can of soda contains 41 grams of sugar, and 1 average bag of chocolate-coated candy contains 27 grams of sugar, these do count.
Bottom line: There are many options on the shelves you just need to pause, compare and then portion accordingly. Sugar is not literally toxic, but can cause harm when the quantity, frequency and source are abused. Manufacturers are slowly getting the message that they don't have to add sugar to make our food taste good and that we will buy the lower sugar alternatives. There are many factors that are contributing to the rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes such as lack of exercise, added calories from unhealthy types of fats, poor sleep habits, poor stress management and environmental challenges such as access to fresh fruits and vegetables and safe play areas.
Sheryl Lozicki is a Registered Dietitian at Saint Mary's Health Care, a member of the new Mercy Health and the Director of Nutrition and Wellness.