Sugar comes in many forms, and not all of them are easy to identify. A little bit of sugar in your morning coffee may not seem like a problem, but the truth is that many people consume way more sugar than they realize. Excess sugar consumption can lead to serious health problems, so do yourself a favor and reduce the sugar in your diet – your future self will thank you for it!
Identifying the Many Types of Sugar
Before you can reduce your sugar intake, you need to know how to identify the sugars in your diet. White sugar (or sucrose) is easy to spot, but there are a number of other refined sugars as well as natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners which can be hidden in unexpected places. Natural sugars are those found in milk and fruit – the names for these sugars are lactose and fructose, respectively. Other natural sweeteners include things like agave nectar, pure maple syrup, honey, and stevia. Some of the most commonly used refined sugars include glucose, dextrose, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, and cane sugar.
Artificial sweeteners come in many forms, but the FDA has only approved five of them – acesulfame potassium, aspartame, sucralose, d-tagatose, and saccharin. These sweeteners are typically used as alternatives to sugar, particularly in sugar-free and diet foods. Another category of sweeteners is sugar alcohols – these are naturally found in plants like berries and other fruits, though they are chemically extracted and altered for use in food. Sugar alcohols like erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol contain fewer calories than white sugar but they are not well-absorbed by the body and they often have a laxative effect.
The Dangers of Excess Sugar Consumption
According to Healthline, sugar is just as addictive as certain street drugs like cocaine and it has a similar effect on the human brain. Not only does eating too much added sugar increase your daily calorie intake and therefore your risk for obesity, but it can cause some serious damage to your body. Consuming too much sugar has been linked to liver damage, insulin and leptin resistance, metabolic dysfunction, and an increased risk for heart and kidney disease. Excess sugar consumption can also increase your risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
How Much is Too Much?
Forbes Magazine says the average American consumes about 130 pounds of sugar each year, which equates to about 3,550 pounds over the average lifespan. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day which is roughly the amount of sugar in a single 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola. In terms of calories, added sugar accounts for nearly 500 calories of the average American’s total daily intake.
Tips for Reducing Sugar Consumption
Reading the nutritional information on a food label will generally tell you how much total sugar is in the product, but keep in mind that this total includes both natural sugars and added sugars. If you want to know how much of the total calorie content comes from sugar, simply take the grams of sugar and multiply by four (each gram of sugar contains 4 calories). Here are some common terms related to sugar that you may see on food labels:
- Sugar-Free – Contains less than 0.5g sugar per serving.
- Reduced Sugar (or Less Sugar) – Contains at least 25% less sugar per serving than the traditional version of the product.
- No Added Sugar – Contains no sugars or sugar-containing ingredients.
- Low Sugar – There is no standard definition and this claim is not allowed on food labels.
Now that you are able to identify sugars in the foods you eat, you can start making a concerted effort to reduce your sugar consumption. Here are a few simple ways to reduce your sugar intake:
- Pay closer attention when reading food labels, focusing particularly on the total sugar content.
- Shop for foods that are unsweetened or foods that contain no added sugars.
- When you are baking sweets, cut the amount of sugar called for in the recipe by one-third to one-half.
- When you purchase canned fruit, choose fruits canned in water instead of syrup.
- Use flavor extracts like vanilla or almond extract in baking instead of using added sugar.
- Enhance the flavor of your favorite dishes with natural herbs and spices instead of sweeteners.
- Substitute sugar with some of these healthier alternatives.
- Avoid the temptation to use artificial sweeteners – they can cause many of the same negative effects as sugar, even without the calories.
The effects that excess sugar consumption can have on your long-term health and wellness are anything but sweet. If you are serious about improving your health and nutrition, start taking steps to reduce your sugar consumption.
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