Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Added sugars 101

How much sugar do we need?  NONE!

Carbohydrates are converted into sugar, so we can rely entirely on nutritive sources of fuel. Sugar on its own contains no vitamins or minerals but instead robs the body of vitamins in order to process sugar.

Ironically, I am writing this from a Starbucks. A frappuccino has 69 g of sugar, which is about 17 teaspoons of sugar.

When you’re reading nutrition labels, do some quick math to give yourself a visual picture -- 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. Therefore, if your yogurt has 4g of sugar naturally (from milk sugars, lactose) and the flavored variety has 16g sugar (Chobani blended versus plain), manufacturers more or less added 3 teaspoons of sugar. Keep in mind these added sugars also don’t contribute to our fullness, whereas the extra 3g of protein from the plain yogurt sure could. Ok, to be honest, 3g of protein probably won’t be more filling, but it provides you with the benefit of high quality of protein that your body can use to make hormones, enzymes, growth and repair.

The average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugars daily, contributing an extra 350, non-nutritive (ie having no health benefit) calories per day. This could potentially add up to 36 pounds per year!

Right now nutrition facts do not distinguish between natural sugars and added sugars. In late February, the FDA proposed a change that may include a specific line indicating how many grams of added sugars are in the food. Until then, it’s best to take a peek at the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order by volume, so the further up sugar is listed, the more added sugars in the food item.

Added sugars:
  • anhydrous dextrose
  • brown sugar
  • confectioner's powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • pancake syrup
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose
  • sugar
  • white granulated sugar
Is honey healthier than sugar? NO! 

If you read carefully, you may have noted that honey was on the list of added sugars. That’s because it is a sugar. Honey gets its sweetness from fructose and glucose whereas table sugar is sucrose, which is composed of fructose and glucose. Oh wait, they’re both fructose and glucose? Yes, they are the same. Both also have very similar degrees of sweetness. 

So what is the big deal with the extra sugar anyway? 

Well, cells use glucose for energy, but fructose first has to be converted to glucose (fructolysis) which only occurs in the liver. Triglycerides, uric acid, and free radicals are end product of the fructose conversion. You may have heard of triglycerides before -- they are a component of your total cholesterol (⅕ x triglycerides is added into the total cholesterol count). The triglycerides can build up in your liver creating a condition called fatty liver disease, which now affects ⅓ of adults. Triglycerides also contribute to the accumulation of fatty plaque on artery walls. And free radicals circulate through the body creating damage on otherwise healthy cells. And then we’ve got insulin resistance from the constant influx of sugar in the system. Insulin is produced to help lower blood sugars, so if there is a constant stream of high sugars, the body overproduces insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and over time no longer responds to the hormone. None of this sounds good, does it? 

What about agave nectar? 

Agave nectar is also a sugar made up of fructose and glucose, but has been touted as having a lower glycemic index. This means it supposedly has less of an impact on blood sugars. Glycemic index gives a numerical rating corresponding to the blood sugar increase after having a 50g load of carbohydrates. Agave’s is 19 compared to table sugar’s (sucrose) 58. Since a 50g serving of carbohydrates is not always a reasonable portion, a better indicator is glycemic load. This multiplies the glycemic index by a normal portion. When this is taken into account, agave has a glycemic load of 2 compared to a 6 for table sugar. No significant difference. 

Common sugar culprits include:
  • Cereal 
  • Instant oatmeal 
  • Cereal bars
  • Yogurt
  • Desserts
  • Soda and other flavored beverages
  • Dried fruit 
  • Jams and jellies (Look for Smucker’s low sugar jelly instead. Uses no artificial sweeteners either but has half the sugar!)
  • Ketchup 
  • Salad dressing
  • Peanut butter (Really?! Doesn’t it taste pretty darn good on it’s own?!)
  • Canned fruit 
So this week's challenge involves picking up a food, turning it around, and examining the nutrition facts and ingredients before putting the food in your mouth. Can you trim some of the unnecessary added sugars from your diet? 


Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.

Skerrett, P. (2011, April 26). Is fructose bad for you?. Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-fructose-bad-for-you-201104262425

No comments:

Post a Comment