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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Bari Levine

Why You Eat More Sugar Than You Think

When I think of sugar, I typically think of fresh-baked cookies, ice cream sundaes, frozen coffee drinks and, my favorite, red wine. But these treats, however, may not be your only source of sugar consumption. Research suggests that much of the sugar consumed today comes from packaged food items with added sweeteners--those that are not naturally in other ingredients but that are added during processing.

Food manufacturers are perpetually seeking to turn low cost (and low quality) ingredients into irresistible cravings. To do this, they add fats, sugars and chemicals to make the products taste better and have a longer shelf life. Some of the obvious culprits are sweetened beverages (soda, sport drinks) and colorfully-boxed cereals. But added sugars also appear in plenty of items you wouldn’t think to check like condiments, sauces, granola, dairy-free milks and even bread. Fortunately, in 2016 the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to break out the amount of “added sugars” per serving on the nutrition label, so identifying these sweeteners is no longer a game of reading the fine print (aka the ingredients). However, if no label is available, you can look for ingredients such as honey, molasses, sugar, or any ingredient ending in -ose (the chemical suffix for sugars).

The recommended amount of added sugar is no more than 25 grams per day. This recommendation applies to candy, desserts, cereal, sauces, spreads, sweetened beverages, honey, syrup, etc. The only sugars excluded from this count are those naturally occurring in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. The fiber in these whole foods helps slow down absorption of sugar and lessen its impact on blood glucose and insulin levels.

Taking into account our habit-formation strategies, you can begin to reduce your added sugar intake by tracking what added sugars you consume and thinking about which sugars you can live without. Then choose small steps you can take to improve your diet. Some ways to reduce sugar include replacing sweetened tomato sauce with a no sugar added variety or having a small piece of dark chocolate instead of dessert with dinner. However you do it, know that any change you make is going to be better than no change at all.

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