Feb 05, 2020 12:00 AM

Sugar is quick to get a bad rap, but truth is, our bodies—most notably our brains—require sugar to function. The food we eat is digested and divided into usable parts (energy) so the body can power its functions. But as with most things in life, discretion, moderation, and balance are key when consuming sugar.

Not All Created Equal

That’s because there are different kinds of sugar, and the type you invite into your body will affect whether you ultimately feel fueled or feel imbalanced. According to registered dietician nutritionist Anne Pesek Taylor, RDN, CD, “Natural sugars from whole fruits (fructose), dairy products (lactose), and certain vegetables (for example, carrots contain a mix of fructose, sucrose, and glucose) are ideal because these foods are nutrient dense—providing the body with valuable vitamins and minerals and/or fiber essential for health.” Prioritizing sources of natural sugars is important, because fresh, whole produce helps prevent a spike in blood sugar that added sugars (including those in 100% fruit juice) cause.

Daily Amount

Pesek Taylor counsels, “The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women [which is the same amount for children ages 2 to 18] and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.” This is in addition to what would come from natural sugars in whole foods. She continues, “It’s recommended that all Americans eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 3 to 5 cups of raw (or 1.5 to 2.5 cups cooked) non-starchy vegetables daily.”

Hide and Seek

How do you keep track of those sneaky hidden sugars? Most of us know that processed foods—anything with packaging and a nutrition label—will have added sugar, but, Pesek Taylor says, “Added sugar is also found in all sorts of foods that don’t necessarily taste particularly sweet. Many condiments and sauces (think salad dressings, ketchup, barbeque sauces, marinades, peanut butters, and tomato sauces) contain added sugar. There is also a significant range in the added sugar content found within breads, granola, granola bars, flavored applesauce, yogurt, frozen entrees, and canned fruit.”

So how to seek out those hidden amounts? “The best option is to look at the total sugar content on a food label and then read through the ingredients list to identify any hidden sources of added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to limit food items that list some form of added sugar as the first or second ingredient.” Keeping track of serving sizes and limiting the sneaky-sugar processed foods that you consume will go a long way in helping you feel your best.

By Any Other Name

What other names does sugar try to hide behind? Pesek Taylor says, “There are a lot! An incomplete list includes agave nectar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, rice malt, and sucrose. By 2021, all food manufacturers should be required by law to distinguish added sugar from the total sugar content within their products, which will make it far easier for consumers to decipher exactly how much added sugar is found in all their favorite packaged foods—regardless of what name added sugar might be hiding under.”


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