Cutting Back on Added Sugar Brings Some Sweet Health Benefits

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a big fan of dessert,” and wondered what’s wrong with that person? Who doesn’t like a scoop of ice cream, a slice of pie, or a piece of cake?

Most people do. The problem is too many of us like to overindulge. Too much added sugar is a contributing factor to more than two-thirds of the people in the United States being overweight.

To make matters worse, sugar is in a lot of places we don’t expect. It’s in ketchup, spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, oatmeal, snack foods, salad dressings, and canned soups.

Knowing what counts as sugar and opting for foods with low or no added sugars can go a long way toward reducing your risk of developing some serious chronic health conditions.

Woman with headache

What’s at risk

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, excessive consumption of added sugars can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other metabolic conditions.

High-sugar foods often have little nutritional value. In addition to the potential health risks already mentioned, consuming added sugar can lead to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Poor mental health
  • Low energy
  • Premature skin aging

Men should not consume more than 36 grams of added sugar a day or 150 calories. Women should limit their intake to 25 grams or 100 calories. Children should not consume more than 12 to 25 grams of sugar a day.

For context:

  • A single serving of “healthy” breakfast cereal for adults contains 13 grams of sugar
  • A breakfast bar made with “real fruit” and “whole grains” contains 15 grams of sugar
  • A small serving of low-fat yogurt contains 22 grams of sugar
  • 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
Spoon with sugar

It’s all sugar

The University of California San Francisco created SugarScience to share information about sugar and its effects on health. One of its resources is a list of 61 different names for sugar that the food industry uses to sweeten products. Some are obvious with names that include the words, “sugar,” “syrup,” “sweetener,” and “cane.” But some aren’t so obvious:

  • Agave nectar
  • Barley malt
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice
  • Glucose solids
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Maltodextrin
  • Mannose
  • Muscovado
  • Panocha
  • Saccharose
  • Sucrose
  • Treacle
Chopped fruit

Tips for cutting back

This may sound counterintuitive but cutting back on added sugar is a lot easier than you may think. It’s presence in nearly everything makes it relatively simple to eliminate a few items from your diet to help reduce your sugar intake.

  • Off the table — Reduce the table sugar, syrup, and honey you add to tea, coffee, cereal, or pancakes. Cutting back by half is a way to wean yourself.
  • So long soda — Water is always the best choice. Diet drinks can satisfy your sweet tooth but drink them in moderation.
  • Fill up on fruit — Fruit has natural sugars and fiber. You can add berries, bananas, and dried fruit to sweeten your oatmeal, pancakes, or cereal. Frozen, dried, and canned fruits are good snacks. Just make sure canned fruits aren’t packed in heavy syrup.
  • Cut back — Start reducing the amount of sugar called for in recipes next time you bake. You won’t miss it. Extracts like almond, vanilla, orange, and lemon can be good substitutes.
Senior in the woods

The benefits

Cutting back on added sugar has lifelong benefits that include:

  • Reduced diabetes risk
  • Reduced belly fat
  • More consistent energy
  • Reduced weight
  • Healthier-looking skin
  • Healthier heart

Keep yourself healthy

Health care isn’t just for when you’re sick — it’s to keep you healthy, too. AltaMed offers members a wide range of programs that can make it easier to live healthy, manage chronic conditions, lose weight, and achieve other important health goals. We use proven techniques to motivate you.

Our programs include dietician consultations, STOMP — family health and fitness program, Healthy Heart Program, and so much more. Call (888) 499-9303 to get started.

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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!

Spices in Cristal Glases

This Fall, Spice Up Your Cooking the Healthy Way

Southern California may not go through a proper change of seasons the way much of the rest of the country does, but you can still bring a little taste of autumn to your home. More than sweet potatoes and pumpkins, spices are what really say, “the weather is getting colder and the holidays are almost here!” Besides adding some low-calorie kick to your foods and a pleasing scent to your kitchen, many herbs and spices have been prized for centuries for their health benefits. Read on to learn more, including how to add these new flavors to your existing dishes and other fall favorites.

Nuts on a Grater

Nutmeg is probably the first spice you think of at this time of year – it gives pumpkin pie and all of the pumpkin-spiced products their rich, warm tastes. It’s made from the kernel of an exotic fruit, and it’s been used all over the world for a variety of medicinal purposes, including as a digestive aid and an antibacterial agent. Looking to stave off Alzheimer’s and boost your brain? Add nutmeg to your shopping list. Just don’t eat too much of it, as it can cause hallucinations.

Cinnamon Dust

Cinnamon is one of the most versatile spices there is, but did you know that cinnamon is a wellness powerhouse? Some research says that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar and is good for those with diabetes: it’s a sugar-free way to add a sweet taste. Add it to coffee, tea, oatmeal, or any other food that can use a hint of sweetness. It’s a great source of antioxidants that are good for your heart and your brain function. Bonus: cinnamon delivers a festive fragrance to your home.

Whole Pepper

Allspice combines sweet and savory tastes like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The versatile spice can be used in both meat dishes and desserts. For centuries, allspice has been used as a folk remedy for stomach aches, menstrual cramps, colds, and general pain relief. Many of these effects have been studied and proven by science. Researchers are looking into whether it can help prevent cancer, but so far, there’s no conclusive proof.

Ground and Fresh Ginger

Ginger isn’t just for cookies or sushi. This spice, made from the root of ginger plants, will add some spicy, sweet drama to anything you use it in. Grate it fresh for salad dressings and marmalades, cook it up with squash and other vegetables, add it to baked goods, or drink it as a tea. Ginger is one of the most studied spices in the world for its healing properties: it’s proven to relieve pain, calm your stomach, and reduce inflammation.

Celery Seed

Celery seed has a distinctly bitter taste that makes it an easy, lower-sodium alternative to salt. Salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, so the next time you’re cooking up a hearty stew, casserole, or meat-based dish, reach for the celery seed instead. Celery also contains bone-building calcium and iron, a nutrient that’s critical for many of your body’s functions.


Saffron is most famous for the vivid yellow color it gives to foods. It’s popular around the globe, used commonly in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes – you may have already had it in paella and other rice dishes like risotto or pilaf. It’s got a similar sweet, musky flavor to vanilla, so you can try experimenting by adding saffron where you’d normally add vanilla (yogurt, baked goods). A little goes a long way: not only in your cooking but for your health. Saffron is thought to promote heart health and fight PMS. One study even showed that saffron-infused dishes created a greater feeling of satiety, or fullness, which helped participants lose weight.

Cutting Back on Added Sugar Brings Some Sweet Health Benefits