I’m not a sugar-hating fanatic. In fact, my credentials as a chocoholic and dessert-lover are unimpeachable. If you doubt me, check out the desserts listed in the recipe index or read back over how my love affair with candied ginger has played out in everything from cupcakes to cheesecake.
But I like to know what I’m eating. Whether it’s sugar or anything else, don’t try to slip one by me please. Part of the fault up until now has been my own. I didn’t know how to read a food label correctly when it came to sugar and was unaware how much sugar I was really eating.
My first inkling that all was not well with the added sugar in my diet was when I saw the documentary Fed Up. It’s a good film – not perfect, but definitely eye-opening. After seeing it a few weeks ago, I started doing research and that’s when I really got shocked. Watching the film in a “that’s not me” mode, I had convinced myself that my own habits and preferences were not leading to a lot of added sugar in my diet. I’m not about to stop eating sugar, but I’ve certainly learned to be more discerning about what foods I buy now that I know these 3 facts.
Shocking Sugar Fact #1 – 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon.
Now go look on labels of food you eat and see how much sugar is in each serving. Surprised? I was.
It makes sense that sugared cereal like Cocoa Puffs would have a lot of sugar – 10 grams or 2 ½ teaspoons in each ¾ cup serving.
But how about Special K Multi-Grain cereal made with whole grain and touted as being a good source of fiber? It turns out to have 6 grams of sugar in a 1 cup serving, or 1½ teaspoons.
You could go organic and try Heritage Crunch, which contains “ancient grain clusters & flakes: Kamut ® Khorasan what, spelt, barely, millet & quinoa.” But it turns out that a smaller serving (¾ cup) of that certified organic, non-GMO cereal packed in a 100% re-cycled paperboard box has just as much sugar (6 grams or 1½ teaspoons) as the Special K.
And while we’re talking about how much sugar is in the cereal, check how much you pour into your bowl. According to cereal labels, the typical serving size is ¾ -1 cup. That is a rather small amount; if you eat more cereal than that, you’re getting more sugar than the grams listed on the label.
Shocking Fact #2 – It’s Easy to Eat More Sugar Than You Should
The American Heart Association recommends that adult women consume no more than 24 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar and men no more than 36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day.
Heinz ketchup contains 1 teaspoon of sugar in each 1 tablespoon serving. A container of flavored yogurt (Greek or regular) can contain almost 5 teaspoons of added sugar (beyond the naturally occurring sugar in the yogurt itself) and protein bars like the Clif banana nut bar contain over 5 teaspoons of sugar (22 grams) each.
Sports drinks often have 3½ teaspoons or 14 grams per 8 ounces. (Keep in mind that many many sports drinks, like one below, come in 16 or 20 ounce sizes. If you guzzle one of them after a workout, you are drinking tablespoons, not teaspoons, worth of sugar.)
If your total food consumption on 1 day consisted of:
- Breakfast – Special K or Heritage Crunch cereal with milk,
- Lunch – a 6-ounce flavored yogurt,
- Snack after work-out – a protein bar and a sports drink,
- Dinner – a hamburger with ketchup, a baked potato, salad ,and no dessert,
you would have consumed approximately 16 teaspoons (64 grams) of sugar – way more than the recommended 6-9 teaspoon (24-36 gram) daily amount – and yet you would not have eaten much food at all and you would not have had anything I would consider a splurge.
Even more shocking is that this entire day’s worth of food = one 20-ounce bottle of soda in terms of sugar consumption! Still want a Coke or Pepsi with that hamburger?
Shocking Fact #3 – You Can’t Figure out the Added Sugar from the Grams of Sugar Listed on the Food Label
When I first learned how much added sugar is hidden in food products, I assumed that the ingredient label tells the whole story. But that’s not true. The sugar listed on a food label is not always just added sugar; it also includes sugar naturally occurring in the foods contained in the product.
Naturally occurring sugar is found in dairy (in the form of lactose), and fruits. For example, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a 6-ounce container of plain “regular” (not Greek) yogurt has about 12 grams or 3 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar in it, in the form of lactose. Greek yogurt has less naturally occurring sugar because it has less lactose. Items that contain fruit such as jams and cereals with dried fruits will also have naturally occurring sugars that show up on the label, undifferentiated from the added sugar.
How can you tell if the sugar is added or natural or both? Basically if the product does not contain dairy or fruit the sugar is likely to be completely added. If it is a product with dairy or fruit, look at the label for ingredients. They are listed in weight order, so if sugar under any of its many names is listed close to the top, you can bet there is a lot of added sugar in the product.
Coming on Monday (with a nod to Paul Simon) – There may be 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, but I’ve got 115 names for sugar. And I’ll give them all to you, in alphabetical order.