Sugar, added sugar, and carbohydrates; these are words we hear on a daily basis. Are you watching your sugar intake by reading labels and avoiding added sugar? Do you know what you are looking for on food labels or ingredient lists? 

understanding added and naturally occurring sugarsWhether you’re up-to-date on the tips and tricks to decoding a nutritional label or need some schooling, this blog will provide you with necessary information. If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re not alone. I get many questions from my patients regarding sugar and nutrition labels. Continue reading for more information to help you read nutrition labels and find the hidden added sugar.

On the Food Label

Total carbohydrates include “sugars”, whether added or naturally occurring. A new nutrition facts label has been proposed to include “added sugars”. It is estimated that this would go into effect sometime in 2018. This would allow consumers to know if they were consuming extra empty calories from added sugar. 

Understanding Naturally Occurring Sugar

If you look on a milk container it may say 12 grams of sugar. If this was unflavored plain milk, there is no added sugar and the 12 grams would be naturally occurring. The added sugar is what we want to avoid or limit. Many foods contain naturally occurring sugar.

The goal for added sugar intake recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization) is less than 10% daily calorie intake, but they would like us to aim for  less than 5% daily intake. In the United States in the year 2000 the average sugar intake was 18.1% decreasing over time to an average of 14.6% in 2007-2008. (1) Every 4 grams of sugar on a food label is 1 teaspoon, remember there are 3 teaspoons in a 1 tablespoon. So when you consume something with 12g of sugar, that’s 1 tablespoon of sugar. 

The new proposed nutrition facts label would list sugar as well as “added sugar.” While there is much debate over this, it would allow consumers to see just exactly how much added sugar they are consuming and hopefully would aid in better decision making. What do you think? Would it be helpful to see “added sugars,” on the labels? Would it help you lower your sugar intake?

Sneaky added sugars are lurking everywhere. In the average American diet, the largest contributor of added sugar is sweetened beverages, such as soda, energy and sport drinks (34.4% of total sugar intake), grain desserts (12.7% of total sugar intake), fruit drinks (8% of total sugar intake), candy (6.7% of total sugar intake) and dairy desserts (5.6% of total sugar intake) like ice cream. (1) Other items to pay attention to are cereals, tomato sauce, condiments such as salad dressings, and yogurt.

Why are sugars added to our food? 

Sugars are added for various reasons, taste is the most prominent, but other things include; extending shelf life, aid in fermentation for breads, and keeping baked goods fresh longer. There are many names on ingredient lists that mean sugar. Other names for added sugar include; agave, brown sugar, cane juice or cane syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, raw sugar, and syrup. 

Ways to cut added sugar

Try eating plain yogurt vs. flavored, exchange your sweet sugary cereals for plain cereals such as shredded wheat or bran flakes, and avoid all caloric beverages except for milk. If choosing alternative milks such as almond or coconut avoid flavored options and get plain. When baking or cooking, often times you can reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. Whenever I bake I usually start by decreasing the sugar by half. Once you start there, you can always decrease future recipes by more. 

Help decrease added empty calories by limiting added sugars. By doing this it can help prevent tooth decay, allow weight loss, better control blood glucose levels, as well as improve triglycerides, cholesterol levels and decrease heart disease.