What do these foods have in common: bread, spaghetti sauce, canned soup, ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise, wheat crackers and breakfast cereal? They all have added sugar, also known as hidden sugar.
Sugar is not found just in typical sweets such as ice cream and cake. It is added to processed and packaged foods to enhance the taste and satisfy our craving. Sugar in our diet also can be naturally occurring, as in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). The majority of added sugar consumed in America is from beverages, including soda, juice, tea, and sports and energy drinks.
Sugar itself is not bad for us. The amount of sugar we are eating is. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit themselves to no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of sugar a day, and men to no more than 9 teaspoons (32 grams). The average American consumes about 23 teaspoons a day, or 78 pounds a year. That is an additional 385 calories every day, which can lead to a weight gain of 40 pounds a year.
A 12-ounce can of soda has almost 10 teaspoons of sugar (39 grams). Not only can it cause more belly fat, but excess sugar consumption can cause increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, tooth decay and gout.
Cutting back on sugar-added food is easy. Try these tips:
Hold the sugar. Try adding less sugar to coffee or tea.
Swap a regular soda for a diet soda.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid fruits packaged in heavy syrup or vegetables in heavy seasoning.
Check food labels for hidden sugar. Look for ingredients ending in "ose," such as maltose, sucrose or fructose. Other names include fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrate. Limit foods that have these names listed as first ingredients.
Cut portion size. Choose smaller pieces of sweetened desserts.
There is no need to cut sugar completely, but paying more attention to what you are eating can make a big impact. Watch your portion sizes and set limits on the amount of added sugar products you eat.
To stay on track, look for the "total sugar" on the food label. Divide that number by four to get the number of teaspoons. The best way to avoid added sugar is to buy fresh foods, and prepare and cook them yourself.
Jennifer Kraschnewski is an outpatient registered dietitian in the nutrition education department at Baptist Health Lexington.