Sugar, Sugar Everywhere….
By Christina Zavaglia, Dietitian at CAMH
Sugar has been a hot nutrition topic in the press over the last several months. The media has focused specifically on added sugar, which has been linked to obesity and dental cavities. There is also newer research suggesting that high intakes of added sugar could be a risk factor for depression, however more research is needed to confirm these findings.
In a world where we have access to so much information, here is some information you can trust about added sugar, where it comes from, and what you can do to reduce your intake to stay healthy.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released a report recommending adults and children reduce the amount of added sugars they eat to less than 10% of their total daily caloric intake. This translates into about 12 teaspoons per day (or 60 grams, 1 tsp = 4 grams of sugar) for a standard 2000 kcal diet. They further stated that a reduction to below 5% per day would provide additional health benefits. Canadians likely consume about 18 teaspoons per day (72 grams) of added sugars.
What exactly are added sugars? As the name implies, added sugars are any type of sugar that are added to foods or beverages when they are prepared or processed. In contrast, naturally occurring sugars are those found in fruits, milk, and some vegetables, these foods are also high in nutritional value and are known to positively affect our health. Generally, foods with added sugar are high in calories and low in nutritional quality, think of chocolate bars, cookies, cakes, and ice-cream.
The biggest contributor of sugar in our diets is sugar-sweetened beverages, these include regular pop, juice, smoothies, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavoured milks, and specialty coffee and tea drinks (eg. flavoured lattes). But added sugar is also found in many foods you may not automatically suspect, and some of them are even considered to be healthy. Here are some examples:
Fruit flavoured yogurt: Yogurt is a great source of calcium, protein, and probiotics however, flavored yogurts can be high in added sugar. All yogurt will have some sugar due to the natural sugars found in milk. Choose plain yogurt and add your own fruit to reduce added sugar.
Granola: made from oats, seeds, nuts and fruit, many people think granola gets a ‘gold star’ for being healthy. However granola cereals can be high in sugar. Take for example Quaker Apple, Cranberry, and Almond granola. It has 13 grams (3.25 tsp) of sugar per ½ cup serving and contains three types of added sugar on the label: brown sugar, sugar, and honey. In fact, this granola has more sugar per serving that a bowl of fruit loops (12 grams or 3tsp in ¾ cup). Try making your own granola or reducing portion size.
Condiments: Barbeque sauce and ketchup are primarily sugar. One tablespoon of ketchup has 4grams of sugar and most of us would probably eat more than a tablespoon. And surprisingly, some salad dressings also contain sugar. Often fat-free dressings have sugar added to try to maintain the flavor of the dressing while eliminating fat. Tip: Try making your own dressings and sauce. For a simple salad dressing, use 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of vinegar, and a hint of Dijon mustard. No added sugar required!
To reduce your intake of added sugar, look at food labels and compare products to choose ones lower in sugar. Food labels do not distinguish between natural and added sugar so you have to look at ingredient lists for sugar. If sugar is in the first three ingredients, that may indicate the food is high in sugar. Also, sugar is not always called “sugar” and may appear on a label as many different names including, honey, agave, dextrose, glucose, glucose-fructose, maltose, maple syrup, beet sugar, corn syrup and cane juice. Your body digests all these sugars the same way, so whether it is agave syrup or organic cane sugar, they are all broken down the same way; reports indicating certain sugars are healthier can be misleading. If you are making your own baked goods, you can reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3 without noticing a difference in taste.
Remember, all foods can fit within a healthy diet and treats that are high in sugar should be enjoyed in moderation. The table below has the amount of sugar found in some commonly eaten foods. Do the numbers surprise you? Sugar adds up quickly!