8 FAQs that Reveal the Not-So-Sweet Truth About Added Sugar

Warm weather and longer days make summer one of the sweetest seasons of the year. But the temptation to cool down with popsicles, ice cream, and tall glasses of lemonade, could mean excess sugar is sneaking into your daily routine with not so sweet results.

Plus, this year, as we grapple with the threat of coronavirus, some of us are lapsing on our healthy eating, or caving in when our kids turn up their noses at healthy foods, and ask for chips and candy instead.

We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions to help you learn more about sugar, including which sugars are good for you, which aren’t, and how much is OK to eat.

1. Why is extra sugar unhealthy?

Sugar Cubes

High-sugar foods are often low in nutritional value. Other potential health risks of eating too much sugary food includes:

  • Weight gain
  • Tooth decay
  • Negative impact on mental health
  • Increased risk for conditions that include diabetes, heart disease, acne, and cancer
  • Low energy
  • Can contribute to premature skin aging

Having an occasional – and we do mean once in a great while – piece of cake, bowl of ice cream, or other sweet treat isn’t too bad for you. However, if sugary foods account for too many of your daily calories, that may be trouble.

2. How much sugar is OK?

The less, the better! The American Heart Association provides the following sugar recommendations:

  • For men, no more than 38 grams (about 9 teaspoons)
  • For women, no more than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons)
  • For children, between 12- 25 grams, maximum (about 3 to 6 teaspoons)

For reference:

  • A 12-ounce can of regular, non-diet soda contains about 39 grams of sugar
  • A single serving of store-bought, bottled apple juice contains 42 grams of sugar
  • A small serving of a popular low-fat yogurt contains 22 grams of sugar
  • A single serving of a “healthy” breakfast cereal for adults contains 13 grams of sugar
  • An 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk can have as much as 21 grams of sugar

3. Does the sugar in fruit count?

Colorful Fruit Variety

Sugar occurs naturally in a wide variety of places, including fruits, vegetables, and even milk and dairy products. Most people can tolerate natural sugar, unless you have diabetes or another metabolic disorder.

4. What about fruit juice and fruit snacks?

Apple Juice Being Taken

If you’re craving something fruity, real fruit should always be your first choice. Most fruits provide plenty of vitamins and fiber to help keep you feeling full and promote regularity.

Although many fruit juices and fruit snacks provide some nutritional value, they are often full of added sugar, without the benefit of the fiber found in real fruit. Because fruit juice is so sweet and easy to drink, it can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, which could be a serious issue if you have diabetes. In fact, one study found that regular consumption of sweetened juices can dramatically increase your diabetes risk.

Your best bet is to drink water – you can even throw in an orange slice or some berries to give it a sweet but healthy pop of flavor.

5. What are other sources of added sugar?

When you really start paying attention to added sugar in food, you will be shocked at how many places it’s hiding. In fact, sugar is added to up to 74% of packaged foods, including:

  • Ketchup
  • Sauces (barbecue, pasta/spaghetti sauces)
  • Many breakfast cereals (including oatmeal)
  • Processed snack foods (crackers and pretzels)
  • Salad dressings
  • Sports drinks
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Canned and boxed soup mixes

6. How do manufacturers sneak in all that sugar?

Diversity of Sugar Products

One of the tricky things about monitoring your sugar intake is that it isn’t always labeled as “sugar.” There are more than 60 different ways sugar is added to your food. A few of the most common include:

  • Sucrose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Barley malt
  • Maltodextrin
  • Beet sugar
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Fruit juice syrup

7. How do I make sure I am not getting too much sugar?

Young Woman Rejecting Donuts

In addition to reading the ingredients, look at your labels. Most pre-packaged foods include the amount of sugar, including added sugars.

8. Won’t food taste bland without sugar?

No, in fact, just the opposite! To make many processed foods, all of the natural flavors and nutrients are stripped out, with additives and flavors added back in. To get the most flavorful foods:

For more helpful, actionable information on healthy living for your entire family, bookmark the AltaMed Health and Wellness page and check it often!

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AltaMed two Kids Brushing their Teeth

Keeping Your Child’s Smile Healthy

Seeing your child smile is a great feeling. Keeping that smile healthy can take some work. Children’s dental health can be easy to overlook, but the truth is it’s essential to their overall wellbeing. Pain or infections caused by tooth decay can lead to serious physical and mental complications down the road. Check out these helpful facts and tips to keep your child, and their mouth, feeling good.

A Mouthful of Facts

Kid Smiling
  • Cavities (tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic childhood conditions in the United States.
  • Roughly 20% of children ages 5 through 11 has at least one untreated cavity.
  • Tooth decay can cause extreme discomfort or disease that could lead to difficulty eating, speaking, and learning.
  • 69% of Americans get fluoride through local drinking water, which can help protect teeth. Most bottled waters do not contain fluoride.

First Steps: Dealing with Baby Teeth

Baby Showing Teeth

It’s important to begin monitoring your infant’s teeth as soon as they come in. Check for consistency in coloring and alert a dentist if you notice any stains or spots. Clean with a soft washcloth or baby-specific toothbrush. Around the age of two, you can begin using a regular, fluoride toothpaste.

Check out some more quick pointers for keeping their first set of teeth in tip-top shape:

  • Avoid leaving your baby with a bottle at night or during naptime.
  • Never cover pacifiers with sugary substances like honey.
  • Start healthy habits early by skipping sugary drinks and juices and go for water instead. This is a great way to help fight childhood obesity, too.
  • Around their first birthday, teach your child how to drink from an open cup.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends scheduling your child’s first visit to the dentist once their first tooth appears, or no later than their first birthday.

Tooth Care for Tots, Teens, and Everyone in Between

Child Brushing His Teeth

Once their adult teeth start coming in, children should start caring for their teeth like adults, too. Establishing a routine will make it easier for them to remember and learn lifelong healthy habits.

  • Brush with Fluoride Toothpaste

The National Institute of Health recommends using toothpaste with fluoride for best results. Studies have shown that fluoride toothpaste is 33% more effective at preventing tooth decay. Dentists recommend brushing for a full two minutes, alternating between different areas of the mouth. It’s important to supervise your child’s brushing habits until they are old enough to brush on their own.

  • Be Consistent

Children should brush their teeth after every meal to remove potentially harmful bacteria. At a minimum, kids should brush in the morning before school and at night before bedtime.

  • Floss

While brushing will help get rid of food buildup on the surface of their teeth, be sure to have you children floss in the evening as well. Flossing will clean the hard-to-reach areas between teeth and at the start of the gum line, removing plaque before it becomes harmful. Flossing is recommended for everybody from young children to teenagers.

  • Visit the Dentist

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, most children need two scheduled checkups per year to maintain a healthy smile. Can’t remember the last time your child visited the dentist? It may be time to pick up the phone.

  • Avoid Whitening Toothpaste

A shiny, white set of teeth may sound ideal, but don’t risk your child’s health trying to get them. Many active whitening toothpastes contain harmful chemicals that can wear down enamel (your teeth’s protective outer layer). Be sure to stick with regular, fluoride toothpaste instead.

  • Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

If your child begins to experience any unusual pain, such as a toothache, seek professional help as soon as possible. Strong discomfort can often signal an infection which may spread to the jaw, neck, or head.

Don’t Forget to Smile!

Little Girl Smilling

By following these steps, you can rest easy knowing your child’s smile is happy and healthy. If you’re not sure of the last time you or your children went to the dentist, schedule an appointment at AltaMed. Our dental offices are conveniently located inside the same locations that provides medical care, women’s health services, and all the other care you and your family need to grow healthy. Find one today.

Woman Eating Cereal For Breakfast

The Link Between Food and Mood: It’s Not All in Your Head

You already know what you eat affects how your body works and feels. Food can also have a big impact on your mood and your mental health. You’ve probably noticed that, if you eat junk food and empty calories, you may feel sluggish, unfocused, and even a bit blue – and when you eat healthy foods that are full of vitamins and nutrients, you feel mentally lifted and energized.

It’s not all in your head: there’s a strong connection between your diet and your mood. What you eat may not cause depression or anxiety, but it can make behavioral disorders worse. And just like food can help sharpen your brain, a healthy diet may help you feel more cheerful and positive.

So, if you’ve been feeling down and don’t understand why, it could be related to what you eat.

Why Sugar Isn’t So Sweet

Man Choosing Between Junk and Healthy Food

Sugar isn’t just bad for your body and your teeth: eating too much sugar can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Sugars, including the simple carbohydrates found in white bread, candy, and soft drinks, can increase inflammation in the body, which has been linked to increased pain and depression.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women or 9 teaspoons a day for men. To give you an idea of how much that is, a can of full-sugar soda has 8 teaspoons of sugar while a small banana has 3 teaspoons. Check out these recommendations for healthy drinks that won’t spike your sugar.

Your Gut-Feeling Is Real

Over the past few years, scientists and nutritionists have studied the gastrointestinal system – also known as your gut. Your gut has more than a thousand types of bacteria and trillions of organisms that play an incredibly important role in many of the body’s processes. Ninety-five percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a substance that helps regulate sleep, appetite, mood, and pain sensitivity, is made in your gut. It’s not that much of a stretch to say a lot of your mental outlook starts in your stomach.

A diet full of added sugars and highly processed foods (canned foods, fast food, most chips, and snack foods) can kill some of the good bacteria in your gut – which can make you want even more sugar. Sugar can temporarily spike your serotonin, but in the long run, it affects your gut’s ability to produce it.

So far, there has been hopeful news about probiotics, a beneficial bacterium that exists naturally in foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, and kombucha. In addition to improving the body’s immune system and helping to reduce bloating and gas, researchers believe that probiotics may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. These foods are not a miracle cure, but they are healthy and delicious options to try.

Comfort Foods Aren’t Always the Answer

Mexican pasta soup

Sometimes, when a person feels down, they may reach for comfort foods that make them feel safe, happy, or protected. Comfort foods can be different from family to family and culture to culture, but typical American comfort foods include rich, calorie-heavy dishes like mac’n’cheese, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, and other dishes that can give you a few minutes of bliss but leave you feeling worse off in the long run, due to added sugar. Eating large portions of fatty foods will also make you feel sluggish because your body has to work harder to digest the extra fat. 

Comfort foods, and meals eaten in social situations where there’s friendship and festivities, can make you feel good, but you should still focus on making nutritional choices that will keep you feeling healthy and energetic. This list of food swaps can give you ideas about how to make some of your favorite holiday dishes a little healthier. And it’s always a good idea to add more fresh and healthy in-season produce to your diet.

Try Keeping a Food/Mood Journal

Woman Writing on the Notebook

If you’re thinking about changing your diet to see if your mood improves, start by keeping a journal. Make a few notes daily about the foods that you stopped or started eating, the portion size, when you ate it, and then how you felt a few hours later. It doesn’t have to be long commitment, but you should commit to doing it every day for at least a few weeks so you can track your progress.

Sometimes a Healthy Diet Isn’t Enough

Woman in the Kitchen Looking Through the Window

Eating right has so many benefits to your health, but sometimes it isn’t enough to pick you up if you’ve been feeling down for a long time. If you’ve been sad and you don’t know why, you could be going through an episode of depression. Depression is a real health problem that you shouldn’t ignore. Call AltaMed at (855) 425-1777 to learn more about our behavioral health services.

8 FAQs that Reveal the Not-So-Sweet Truth About Added Sugar