Sweet Talk: Sugar 101

by | Jul 1, 2018

Natural versus added sugar… artificial sweeteners… sugar alcohols… what does it all mean?  And how do these substances affect your health?  Let’s break it all down!   Sugar, also known as sucrose, is a carbohydrate found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.  These NATURAL SUGARS are converted to glucose for energy but also come in foods that have a ton of additional benefits as well, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.   If the sugar is not coming from the food itself, then it is an added sugar.  ADDED SUGARS are defined by the USDA as “any caloric sweetener added to foods during processing, preparation, or consumption.”  The American Heart Association suggests that women limit added sugars to 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons) per day and men to 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) per day.  Too much added sugar doesn’t save room for healthier choices in the diet and is linked to heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes and obesity. So how do you determine what is an added sugar?  Answer… by reading the ingredients and nutrition facts label.  The good news?  The updated nutrition facts labels will require added sugars to be posted.  This is a HUGE upgrade to the labels and will make it much easier for consumers to make educated purchases.  You may already notice some of your favorite products with the upgraded label (shown in the picture below), but all manufacturers must display the new label by January 2020. Related image Even with the new and improved label, you should also always look at the INGREDIENT LIST for sugar words including: sugar, table sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, corn syrup, cane sugar, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, inverted sugar, maple syrup, molasses, and anything else ending in “ose”.  HINT… if the product doesn’t contain any fruit (fructose) or dairy (lactose), then everything you see on the ingredient list is an added sugar. Sources like agave nectar, honey, and maple syrup are often viewed as more natural choices because they’re derived from plant sources.  While you may slightly benefit from a minimal amount of extra vitamins or minerals, they are still ADDED sugars and all contribute towards your daily limit on added sugars in the diet.   So, what about ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS?  These products are low-to-no calorie sweeteners that provide little to no energy when consumed.  They are synthetic and derived from chemical substances or plants.  They are much sweeter than regular sugar and add virtually no calories to the diet.  Artificial sweeteners can be good for diabetic patients because they usually do not increase blood sugar levels, and they may be beneficial for individuals on a weight loss journey because they can satisfy a sweet tooth with a lower-calorie product.  The FDA has approved the following sweeteners for use in the United States:  acesulfame-K, aspartame, monk fruit extract, neotame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose.   Lastly, so what are SUGAR ALCOHOLS?  They are sweeteners that naturally occur in foods and provide fewer calories than regular sugar.  They are converted to glucose more slowly and require little insulin to be metabolized so they don’t spike blood sugar levels either.  Sources include isomalt, HSH, and items ending in “itol” like sorbitol and mannitol.  Sugar alcohols are associated with digestion issues due to slow movement through the intestines, so individuals may experience bloating, diarrhea, and gas. Be cautious of the amounts of candies or sugar-free gum you consume in one sitting if they are made with sugar alcohols.   Take Home Message:  It is best to build a healthy eating style by choosing foods and drinks with low amounts of added sugars and opting for more whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean and plant-based protein, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Consume water, unsweetened tea or coffee, low-fat or fat-free milk, or other calorie-free beverages instead of sodas or sweetened drinks.  Make sweet desserts and snacks such as cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream an occasional treat and practice proper portion control.  Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are safe to consume in moderation when incorporated into a well-rounded diet as described above.   Looking to build a healthier lifestyle with the guidance and support of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist? Reach out to me at info@NicoleOlenRDN.com today.  I’m looking forward to helping you reach your goals! Resources: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/added-sugars http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090112p42.shtml

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