Most of us have noticed the endless research and media outpouring over the harmful effects of sugar on the body, but it can be difficult to tell if you’re doing a good job avoiding it.
Sugar is a confusing topic. Even some of the things we consider healthy can contain that sugary offender! That’s right. Foods like fruits and milk contain naturally occurring sugars. But does this mean they are bad for us? Of course not. Your body uses the small amounts of sugar in these foods for energy, and benefits from the fiber, vitamins and minerals that are also provided by those foods. It’s highly unlikely that your morning glass of milk or afternoon apple are causing you harm. As long as you are sticking to the recommended number of servings for these foods, you aren’t going to overdo it. This is generally true unless you have a chronic disease like diabetes – in those cases it IS possible for natural sugars to do harm, and you should seek direction from your dietitian.
So what kind of sugar SHOULD you watch out for? The key word we are looking for here is “added”.
Added sugars are just as they sound - extra sugars added to foods during processing or preparation. Some of the more obvious sources include things like candy, desserts, or soda. However, they can also be found in places you might not guess, like yogurt, condiments, salad dressings, cereal, peanut butter, or granola bars. It also includes things like sugar in your coffee and honey on your oatmeal.
So how much is too much?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugar. For someone on a 2000-calorie diet, that’s 50g per day of added sugar. If you eat an 1800-calorie diet, you should eat less than 45g per day.
Since it’s often found in packaged foods, you can usually track your sugar intake pretty easily by reading nutrition labels. Historically, sugar has been listed as one section of the nutrition facts label, making it difficult to differentiate between natural and added sugars. However, manufacturers are newly required by law to list exactly how many grams of added sugars are in their products! Yay! While the larger companies have until January of 2020 to make this change, many are getting a head start already.
In the meantime, take a look at the “sugar” section of your labels and try tracking a typical day to see where you stand. Of course, the values you’re seeing reflect ALL of the sugar in these products (including the naturally occurring kind). So you should typically assume foods with a higher sugar value will also contain more added sugar too. Confusing, I know. Trust me….this will all get easier once the new nutrition facts labels get rolled out!
Besides the obvious candy, cookies, and soda, try taking a look at the labels of things like cereal, protein bars, tomato sauce, and yogurt, where added sugars are often lurking. Do your best to limit, replace, or eliminate foods that aren’t doing you any favors, and you’ll be in great shape!
Nutrition Technique: Having too much added sugar in your diet increases your risk for developing type 2 Diabetes. If you already have Diabetes, it’s especially important for you to manage ALL types of sugar in order to keep your numbers looking good. These days, most Americans would benefit from a close look at daily added sugar intake. A quick glance at food labels in the grocery store can help you make better choices and keep you on the path to great health.
Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD, CD