I’m often asked, “Sugars are bad for your health, right?” Sugars tend to receive a bad reputation because of how prevalent they are in food. The type and amount of sugar consumed are the two things to look at to determine if sugar intake is at a healthy level or is tipping the pendulum towards unhealthy.
There are 2 types of sugars: natural sugars and added sugars.
Natural sugars are those found in fruit, milk, and yogurt. All fruit, fresh, frozen and canned, milk of all fat levels, and both traditional yogurt and Greek yogurt contain natural sugars.
Natural sugars provide the body energy, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Foods and beverages with natural sugars are healthier than those with added sugars.
Added sugars are in many foods and beverages such as, soda, juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, breakfast cereals, granola bars, yogurts, condiments, sauces, and many other products. The food industry uses sugar to add flavor, help preserve food, improve texture, and add appeal. For example, granola bars are sweetened with corn syrup and honey to help hold its shape and taste like “oats & honey.” Lemonade is sweetened with cane sugar to balance the tart taste of lemons and quench thirst. Ketchup is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup to offset the acidity of tomatoes and improve taste.
Added sugars provide us energy but no additional nutrients. Consuming too much added sugar is associated with weight gain, blood pressure problems, tooth decay, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Due to the health concerns associated with added sugar consumption, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans established added sugar guidelines. The AHA recommendations women to limit intakes to 24 grams or less per day and men to limit intakes to 36 grams or less per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend children consume 24 grams or less per day.
Compare the added sugar guidelines to what is in popular foods and beverages. Here are a few examples of added sugar amounts: a 20 fluid ounce bottle of Mountain Dew contains 77 grams; an individual “oats & honey” granola bar contains 7 grams; a 12 fluid ounce serving of lemonade contains about 39 grams; a 2 tablespoon serving of ketchup contains 6 grams.
If you’re starting to reconsider some of your favorite food and beverage selections, the good news is the amounts of added sugar in foods and beverages can now be found on the Nutrition Facts label.
The Nutrition Facts label can serve as a valuable tool in helping decrease added sugar intakes. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) now require all food manufacturers to list the added sugar content on the Nutrition Facts label and must comply by July 2021. See the picture below for reference of how added sugars are listed on labels.
Moving forward, referencing the added sugar content on the Nutrition Facts label can be a useful tool to help decrease added sugar consumption and improve health. There is no doubt our food industry is saturated with added sugar. Finding small ways to reduce your intake can lead to positive health outcomes.
Chelsea Guenzler is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a certified Diabetes Educator at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital’s Kehl Diabetes Center.