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What you should know about added sugar in your food

If you read the nutrition facts label when grocery shopping you’ve probably noticed one thing many packaged foods have in common – lots of added sugar! Desserts and treats aside, common, seemingly healthful household staples like bread, cereal, sauces and oatmeal are loaded with surprising amounts of sugar. What should the average consumer know about sugar and how do we arm ourselves to cut back on this ingredient often consumed in excess?

Added sugars are those added during food processing and may include table sugar, sugar from syrups and honey and sugars from concentrated fruit and vegetable juices. Foods with added sugars are not to be mistaken with foods with naturally occurring sugars such as regular milk, fresh fruit and root vegetables like sweet potato and beets. These foods that naturally contain sugar are okay and many have inherent health benefits. However, consuming a diet high in excess added sugar can contribute to health concerns such as heart disease, inflammation, unintentional weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease.

So what does moderate added sugar intake look like? It’s recommended that women keep added sugar to no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) daily and men, who typically have higher average daily calorie needs, limit added sugar to 36 grams (9 teaspoons) daily. Foods and beverages with added sugar should not be served to children under two years old.

Unless you are eating primarily whole foods and homemade foods without added sugars you are most likely consuming a fair amount of sugar. Common sources of added sugar include sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and teas as well as ready-to-eat cereals, yogurts, dried fruit, baked goods and condiments like barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce and salad dressing.

One of the best tools to help reduce added sugar intake is the nutrition facts food label, which can help in deciphering a product’s sugar content per serving. Keep in mind that every 4 grams of added sugar is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. So a children’s breakfast cereal with 12 grams of added sugar has the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar per serving.

Foods with sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients are typically high in sugar. However, sugar can have numerous names including corn syrup, invert sugar, malt sugar, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, sucrose, and molasses to name a few.

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