Submitted By: Amy Sercel
Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
The average American eats about 88 grams of added sugar per day – far above the recommended 36 grams for men and 24 grams for women. Eighty-eight grams of added sugar provides about 350 empty calories, or calories that don’t contribute any vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other nutrients.1 These empty calories can lead to weight gain and obesity. On top of that, a high intake of added sugar is “significantly” associated with the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol.2 With all of the negative health impacts, you may think that you should give up sugar completely! However, not all sugar is created equal, and cutting out all sugar would make it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Sugar is found in all carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy. It is impossible to give up all sugar without eliminating these nutritious food groups, too. Any carbohydrate you consume is made up of chains of sugar molecules. Longer chains are known as complex carbohydrates and are found in dairy, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains; these take more time to digest and tend to raise blood sugar more slowly than shorter chains of sugar. Simple sugars, on the other hand, are short chains of sugar molecules that are digested very quickly and will result in a spike in blood sugar.3
Both complex and simple sugars occur naturally in dairy products, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains. If you were to cut out all sugar from your diet, you would remove the important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that these foods provide! You’d also miss out on fiber, protein, and healthy fat. These nutrients prevent simple sugar from being absorbed too quickly and spiking blood sugar.3 The naturally occurring sugar in these foods also supplies important fuel for your brain and muscles.
Added sugar, on the other hand, is simple sugar that has been added to processed foods to improve their flavor.4 Added sugar only provides sweetness and empty calories without any other nutritional benefits.4,5 The foods highest in added sugar include soda, sweetened juice, breakfast cereals, and desserts like ice cream, cookies, candy and cakes.1,4 Added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar, is associated with the development of obesity and chronic diseases.1,2 To promote health, rather than saying you will remove all sugar from your diet, take a more realistic and nutritious approach by limiting your intake of added sugar from processed foods.
Unfortunately, sugar is added to bread, tomato sauce, soups, and many other unexpected foods, and the current nutrition facts label does not differentiate between the amounts of naturally occurring and added sugar in foods. To find added sugar, look for one of its many names on the package’s ingredients list. Some of the names that signify added sugar include sucrose, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, or honey. Choosing whole, unprocessed foods will also help you limit your intake of added sugar. Finally, remember that you should never try to remove all sugar from your diet. The naturally occurring sugar in dairy products, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains comes with many nutrients and is an essential part of a healthy eating pattern!
So if you’re thinking of saying, “I’m giving up sugar,” consider this statement instead: “I’m going to try to limit the intake of added sugar in the foods I choose.” This statement proves you are an educated, realistic consumer who is interested in improving the quality of your food intake.
- Added Sugar in the Diet – The Nutrition Source – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/. Accessed May 11, 2016.
- Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders W, Merritt R, Hu FB. ADded sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among us adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.
- Good & Bad Sugars. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/good-bad-sugars-7608.html. Accessed May 11, 2016.
- What are added sugars? Choose MyPlate. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/what-are-added-sugars. Published February 27, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2016.
- What Are Simple Sugars? | LIVESTRONG.COM. http://www.livestrong.com/article/379749-what-are-simple-sugars/. Accessed May 16, 2016.