By Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
According to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter (February 2019), Americans consume 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day on average. Eating a diet high in sugar has been linked to poor diet quality and puts us at risk for many chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, cardiac disease and some cancers. The American Heart Association recommends that women and children limit added sugar to six teaspoons per day and men no more than nine teaspoons per day (1).
A teaspoon of sugar contains four grams of carbohydrate and provides 15 “empty calories” – calories without any nutrient benefit. When sugar quickly enters the blood stream it signals the pancreas to excrete insulin to help provide cells with energy (glucose). Those who have insulin resistance or Type 2 Diabetes may have difficulty utilizing glucose properly. The excess glucose that does not get in the cells is then stored as triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood (1,2)
Sugar comes in many forms and has many names. We are aware that soda and sweets contain sugar, but we may not be aware of all the processed foods that contain sugar, such as bread or ketchup. Natural sweeteners, such as coconut sugar, date sugar, honey agave and nectars have gained momentum because many people have been avoiding artificial sweeteners. However, these natural sugars still provide 15 to 20 calories per teaspoon and are metabolized in a similar fashion. Just because the name contains “organic” or “pure” or has a fancy name such as agave doesn’t mean it won’t still increase your blood sugar levels very rapidly. Other sources of sugar include cane juice, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate and corn sweetener. Any ingredient that ends with “ose” or has the word sugar, syrup, or nectar should be avoided if you are watching your sugar intake (1,2).
It’s important to differentiate between added sugar and natural sugar found in fruits, dairy, vegetable and grains. Fruits and vegetables contain sugar naturally along with important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and do not contribute to the adverse health consequences of added sugars. The fiber in fruits and vegetables also slows down the release of sugar in the blood stream (1,2). Due to all the associated negative health issues associated with a diet high in added sugars the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires food labels to identify added sugars (1).
Bottom line: Avoiding added sugar is an important step in trying to prevent adverse health conditions. Focus on limiting added sugar by reading food labels and ingredient lists and avoid highly processed and sweetened foods. There is always room to have the occasional sweet in moderation. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and less processed foods with a variety of fruits and vegetables will help you avoid added sugars and provide many health benefits.
Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the past 30 years, working in a wide variety of clinical and outpatient settings. Daphne currently specializes in Bariatrics and Weight Management.