Even if you eat what you consider to be a healthy diet, you may be eating more sugar than you realize. There is so much hidden sugar in processed foods and beverages, and it’s often listed in the ingredients under different names so that you may not even realize you are getting added sugar.
Sugar just adds empty calories and not nutrients. It has been linked to higher risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Added sugars are the ingredients that are added to foods during processing. Almost all packaged foods and beverages contain added sugars, but soft drinks, desserts, and energy and sports drinks are the top offenders. Food companies add sugar to their foods to make them more appealing, and in the case of baked goods and other snack foods, it gives them better flavor, texture, and color. Sugar also helps preserve foods and acts as a bulking agent.
The Not-So-Skinny on Sugar
Aside from loading you up with additional calories and no nutritional value, added sugars can also contribute to potential health problems. These problems include the following:
Poor nutrition. If you’re eating mostly processed, sugary foods instead of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, you are missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that keep your body healthy.
Weight gain. Eating added sugar on a regular basis adds more calories, which will gradually lead to weight gain over time.
High triglycerides. Too much sugar can lead to high triglycerides, or too much fat in your bloodstream, which can increase your risk for heart disease.
Tooth decay. There’s a reason your dentist reminds you to avoid sugary foods and beverages; they increase the likelihood of cavities and other tooth problems.
When reading food labels, if you don’t see sugar listed in the ingredients, you may think that a food is healthy and doesn’t contain added sugar. But think again. Added sugars can go by many other names, which can be hard to identify in an ingredient list unless you know what to look for.
In addition to hidden sugars, food manufacturers are not required to list whether the total sugar content of a food includes added sugars. This makes it really difficult to know how much of the total amount of sugar is coming from added sugar, and how much is from natural ingredients such as milk or fruit.
Food companies have gotten very savvy with hiding sugar in their ingredients list on the packaging. There are more than 56 different names for sugar that can be listed on food labels. Common names that are more recognizable include sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup, but added sugars can be hidden under other names such as dextrose, maltose, or rice syrup, as well as many other lesser-known names.
There are many ways you can reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Doing so will not only reduce your total calories (and may lead to weight loss), but cutting back on sugary foods will also allow you to eat more nutritious foods that your body needs.
Cut out the sugary drinks. Cut out soft drinks, sugary coffee drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks, and instead, drink more water, or choose low-calorie drinks or low-fat milk.
• Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juice. If you do choose fruit juice, make sure it’s 100% juice with no added sugars.
• Skip sugary breakfast cereals. There are plenty of cereals that are low in sugar and healthier for you. Or change up your breakfast routine and opt for low-fat yogurt with fruit, or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana.
• Choose reduced-sugar jellies, jams, and syrups.
• Avoid processed and packaged baked goods. Choose fresh fruit for dessert over cookies, cakes, pies, or ice cream. Also be careful of protein bars and granola bars that claim to be healthy—many are just glorified candy bars with the amount of sugar they contain.
• Snack smart. Cut out packaged snacks like cookies or chips, and replace them with vegetables, fruits, nuts, low-fat yogurt or cheese, or whole-grain crackers.
• Always read food labels! Refer to the list of hidden sugar names, and always read labels when buying packaged foods. Try to limit or avoid foods that contain added sugars.