I will be the first to admit I have a big sweet tooth. Especially when it comes to chocolate. I LOVE chocolate! But I also have to reign myself in when it comes to how much sugar I consume. After doing a bit of research on the subject, I’ve learned just how sneaky sugar is in all of our foods and the inherited health risks that come with indulging your sweet tooth too often.
Please note: I am not a dietician or nutritionist. I am summarizing info found from various sources both in print and online.
As with anything, moderation is definitely essential in regards to your sugar intake. Too much sugar can lead to a variety of health problems such as heart disease, tooth decay, weight gain, inflammation, diabetes, skin problems, and so many more.1
That being said, sugar is also essential in many foods. Of course, the first thoughts are on desserts that are loaded with sweets, but it’s also critical for balancing out other ingredients in recipes such as marinades and sauces. I didn’t realize this the first time I made homemade chili with my own seasonings rather than a packet and the recipes all said to use sugar. We didn’t want sweet chili, so I left it out and it wasn’t that great. The next time I made it and added the sugar, we were amazed at the difference just a couple tablespoons could make in an entire slow-cooker’s worth of chili.
Then is sugar good or not?
Well, that answer depends on which type of sugar you are talking about. There are two basic types of sugars: natural sugar and added sugar. Natural sugar is the fructose found in fruit and lactose found in dairy products. Both of these are ok since they are natural, and it’s not easy to eat/drink enough to overload on the natural sugars. Plus, those foods are full of other minerals and vitamins that are good for your body.
Added sugars are the big issue when it comes to going overboard. “The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance: No more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons).”2
One of the best ways to know how much sugar is in your food is to cook it yourself from raw ingredients. You can see just how much sugar is being added to a meal and budget your sugar intake accordingly.
Sugar is added to almost 75% of packaged foods and drinks in the United States. The hardest part about avoiding sugars is the multitude of names that hide the sugar in the ingredients list. There are over 50 food ingredients that are other ways of saying added sugars. You can find a list of them here.
Some of the sneakiest foods with sugar that are often overlooked are:
- Plant-Based Milk: Most almond, coconut, soy, and others contain 2-5g of total sugar per serving. Look for ones that are “unsweetened,”
- Nut Butters: Look for spreads that are made with only nuts, or maybe have salt or oil as well. Some nut butter can have as much as 2tsp of sugar per 2tbsp serving.
- Bacon: Sugar is often added to offset the salt-cured bacon strips. Low-sodium brands also tend to have less sugar for this reason.
- Ketchup: Try to find brands that have sugar lower in the ingredients since tomatoes already contain natural sugar. (But trust me on this, the sugar-free ketchup is not tasty at all!)
- Chicken Stock/Broth: Check the ingredients list, some of the brands contain added sugars that aren’t necessary.
Slow the Sugars
Obviously, we all know that we want to lower our sugar intake. But when sugar is in almost everything, it’s not easy! There are a few things you can do to help decrease the amount of sugar you consume.
Read Labels: Make sure to read both the nutrition label and the ingredients label. Look for those sneaky sugar alternate names. Try to stay away from anything that ends in -ose as it’s a sugar product.
Lower Caffeine: I know, you need your coffee! When you drink caffeinated beverages, your body doesn’t perceive foods as sweet for a little while afterward, so you may not realize you are consuming as much since you don’t taste it.
Stress Less: Come on, who doesn’t stress eat? I know I do, and it’s usually sweet foods I reach for at this time. Try to keep your stress in check so you do less binge-eating.
Sugar is Sugar
No matter what form it comes in, sugar is sugar. There aren’t any added sugars that are inherently healthier than others.3
Granulated Sugar: This is the regular white sugar used in most recipes. It has a high glycemic index, meaning it’s metabolized faster, causing a bigger sugar crash later.
Brown Sugar: Granulated sugar plus molasses makes brown sugar. The more molasses added makes the brown sugar darker. When possible, opt for light brown sugar.
Coconut Sugar: There isn’t any coconut flavor in coconut sugar. Fortunately, it does have a lower glycemic index so you don’t have as big of a sugar high or crash later.
Brown Rice Syrup: This has the highest glycemic index at 98 even though it doesn’t taste as sweet as regular sugar. It has more of a butterscotch and nutty flavor.
Corn Syrup: This is not the same as high-fructose corn syrup, though it is made with corn and is no better or worse for you than other sugars.
Maple Syrup: Even though there are a few disease-fighting antioxidants in syrup (especially the darker grades), it still has a glycemic index of 54 and is still a sugar.
Honey: Honey is similar to maple syrup, having antioxidants in it, but it is also higher on the glycemic index.
Agave: Agave has the lowest glycemic index of these sugars, and is 25% sweeter than sugar, meaning you can use less to get the same flavor. It mixes well with cold liquids.
- Cooking Light Magazine’s January/February 2018 issue