Friday, February 26, 2010

Sugar in Disguise

I've been on a sugar kick the last few weeks. My post about sugar in schools generated some interest online, and has continued offline, as well, through discussions with parents, family members and even in classes I've taught.

So this has prompted me to ask another question: Do you know how much sugar you consume each day?

I'm not talking about natural sugar found in fruits, dairy and veggies (more on those in a future post). I'm talking about added sugars and syrups found in so many foods and beverages today, it would make your head spin.

I think we all know that treats, desserts and candies contain added sugars. And that it's best to view these just as that: special treats. But what about other foods? Foods that are touted as healthy? Foods that might have been sugar-free at one point, but now contain a sweetener you probably can't even pronounce? This is especially true in the supermarket, where packaged, processed foods and beverages have slowly been bulked up with cheap sweeteners, primarily to replace other ingredients and appeal to taste buds and wallets.

All of this excess sugar creates havoc in our bodies. High sugar intake has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

So, you ask, how do I find out if my favorite product reeks with sugar? Here's your best defense: Read the ingredient list on the side of the package. Look for sugar-related substances listed among the first three ingredients (ingredients are listed by weight, so the first three are typically the most in the product). If you see a sweetener on the list, you then have a choice: choose to buy another product or consume this product less often.

Check out the following list. And remember, sugar is sugar is sugar, no matter how dressed up it is or what it's called (that includes "organic", "natural" or syrup):

agave nectar or syrup
evaporated cane juice
fruit juice concentrates (apple, grape, orange)
corn syrup
high-fructose corn syrup
maple syrup
sugar (raw, table, brown, confectioner's, baker's, powdered, invert, turbinado)
malt syrup
barley malt
beet name a few (there are more than forty types).

And here some quick tips for ferreting out more sugar:

1. What are you drinking? Beverages are the number one source of added sugars in our diets: sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweet teas, coffee drinks and added-sugar juices.

2. Watch out for products touted as "healthy" such as yogurt, granola bars, peanut butter, instant oatmeal, whole grain cereals, pretzels, pitas, whole grain bread and crackers, frozen waffles and canned products like tomatoes and baked beans.

3. Condiments can be sneaky: ketchup, salad dressing, mustard and BBQ/basting sauces all contain sugar.

4. Low-fat and fat-free foods are notorious for added sugars to bump up flavor.

Do you have any other suggestions? Have you been reading ingredient lists? Write in comments about surprising products you have found containing sugar. My favorite from my pantry? Italian Bread Crumbs.


  1. Sugar: the silent killer...THE END
    I don't eat much sugar if at all. I try to follow this: Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little/no starch, no sugar. I also try to make everything from scratch. I am a big label reader, so the things that I do buy canned/processed etc. are usually 1-2 ingredients. I wish more people would realize that sugar is sugar no matter how you slice it. There are even studies showing that artificial and calorie free sweeteners have the same insulin effect on the body as normal table sugar (50% glucose + 50% fructose). Then there is the "low fat" issue...Let's take out the good stuff (fat, which doesn't make you fat) and replace it with sugar, which makes you fat. Craziness! Good post.

  2. I don't necessarily track sugar, but on nutrition labels sugar is counted into the total carbs...right? I don't drink anything with sugar, usually crystal light, water or an occational diet soda. My typical daily diet consists of about 250 to 300 carbs perday and anywhere from 1800 to 2200 calories.

  3. Ed,
    So your calories are about 54% carbs; and you probably would have a tough time figuring out what % of those are added sugars based on the current labeling system. Yes, sugar is counted into total carbs on the label - a big problem if you want to track added sugars. The listing now doesn't delineate between added or natural sugars; and even though your body ends up breaking them down basically the same, the natural from fruits, milk, etc., has all the vitamins, minerals and fiber while the added has.....zilch. You don't know how much (in grams or percentages) is actually added. I'd love to see ingredient lists have percentage amounts per ingredient and added sugars have their own special line item on the label (with a percentage; make it easy, people!). Thanks for your comment!

  4. One thing I didn't mention: the American Heart Association has recently announced added sugar limits for adult men and women because of the studies linking over-consumption to certain cardiovascular diseases. The rec's are: 9 1/2 teaspoons per day for a man (38 grams) and 6 1/2 teaspoons per day for a woman (26 grams). There are about 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon.