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?
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)
- 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?
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?
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:
- Sauces (barbeque, 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?
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:
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Barley malt
- Beet sugar
- Turbinado sugar
- Brown rice syrup
- Fruit juice syrup
7. How do I make sure I am not getting too much sugar?
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:
- Eat whole foods
- Select fruits and vegetables that are currently in-season, so they will be at the peak of flavor.
- Try a few of these healthy spices on your food.
- Try slowing down! Eating slower lets you savor the taste of every bite, and it gives your brain time to catch up with your stomach’s feeling of fullness. Just concentrate on eating: make your dinner table a device-free zone.
For more helpful, actionable information on healthy living for your entire family, bookmark the AltaMed Health and Wellness page and check it often!