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How to Spot—and Avoid—Added Sugar

With Spring upon us, I’ve been placing a lot of focus on how I can feel renewed and re-energized. ‘Tis the season after all where the sun is shining, the rain is washing away the remnants of winter, the weather is warming up and we simply start feeling this new sense of reinvigoration naturally.

Much of feeling renewed and re-energized despite the time of year comes down to what and how we eat. In my blog, How and Why Eating Well is an Act of Self-Love, I discuss how the way we eat says a lot about how we feel about ourselves.

One way we impact how we feel through food is through high sugar consumption. Sometimes we think we are eating healthy, but there are hidden sugars that many of us aren’t actually aware of. From marinara sauce to peanut butter, added sugar can be found in even the most unexpected products. That includes quick, processed foods for meals and snacks that many of us have come to rely on for convenience. Since these products often contain added sugar, it makes up a large proportion of one’s daily caloric intake.

Here's a quick fact, but astounding fact. Added sugars account for up to 17% of the total caloric intake of adults and up to 14% for children. Yikes!

So what’s the big deal you might ask?

There are so many reasons that eating too much sugar is bad for you from weight gain, increased risk of depression, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, acne, decreased energy with blood sugar crashes, fatty liver, and increases your cellular and skin aging process, and even dementia. Whew! That’s a lot right?

Sugar causes so much trouble in our bodies. Simply put, it’s digested immediately and rapidly absorbed, which causes a massive spike in our blood sugar levels. This causes your pancreas to release more insulin. If the pancreas can’t keep up with that demand, blood sugar levels rise, which can lead to more problems with insulin secretion, and ultimately diabetes.

Sugar also raises inflammation throughout the body, increases triglycerides which is a type of fat in the blood, and boosts levels of dopamine in the brain which gives you a high, and that’s why we eat more sugar—and the more you eat, the more you want.

Now, I’m not saying don’t consume any sugar at all. Some healthy, whole foods naturally have sugar like fruits and some vegetables. This is ok as long as it’s in moderation and you’re stabilizing your blood sugar levels by consuming a balanced meal of protein, fats and carbohydrates which can contain sugar.

What I am referring to today is the white stuff and other added sugars which I will get into shortly. Don’t get me wrong, indulging in the sweet stuff on occasion is ok, like dessert at a holiday gathering. What really hurts our health and wellbeing is larger, long-term consumption.

Now that we know the detriments of high sugar consumption, let’s talk about how to spot—and avoid—added sugar.

Added sugar is obviously in candy, cake, soda, and fruit drinks. But it's also in foods that aren't considered sweets like I mentioned earlier, including salad dressings, crackers, yogurt, bread, spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and breakfast cereals, the list goes on.

You can find added sugar by looking at the ingredients in a product, not the nutrition facts label because the listing for sugar includes both natural and added sugars. Today we are focused on added sugars. Proposed new labels aim to change this, but you can see how many grams of sugar are in a product.

This begs the question then of what name these sweet ingredients go by on food labels.

When looking at food labels, watch for ingredients including:

  • Anything that ends in “ose” such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, maltose and lactose

  • agave nectar

  • brown sugar

  • cane crystals or sugar

  • corn sweetener or syrup

  • evaporated cane juice

  • fruit juice concentrates

  • honey

  • invert sugar

  • malt sugar

  • malt syrup

  • maple syrup

  • molasses

  • raw sugar

So what is the recommended amount of consumption a day? I always say as little added sugars as possible to maintain optimal health. However, for women it should be no more than 24 grams, which is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons per day, and the total sugar intake, both natural and added, should be no more than 48 grams per day, which is the equivalent of 8 teaspoons.

When you eat prepared foods, check the nutrition facts label as they list the total grams of sugar in a serving.

If this all feels too complicated, simply look for places in your diet where you can cut back on added sugar. For example, are you eating a lot of cereals with added sugar? Maybe you like juices? Start eliminating those types of foods as a good first step.

If you're struggling with kicking your sugar habit, check out my 3 Steps to Kick Your Sugar Habit Virtual Talk recording.

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