A little sugar can be part of a healthy diet, but too much sugar can be harmful.
By Lisa Hastings, registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics in the Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine Clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital
Springtime in Houston is full of fun events that encourage overeating of foods with added sugars. In fact, Americans consume so much added sugar that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed changes to the nutrition facts label to help identify them. Additionally, The World Health Organization recently recommended that 5 percent or less of one’s calories should come from all sugars (both natural and added), yet children and adolescents consume about 16 percent of their total calories from added sugars alone.
So what’s the difference between “natural” sugars and “added” sugars? Natural sugars are found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products like unflavored milk and yogurt. These foods tend to be full of vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, added sugars can be found in almost any other food, especially in sweet drinks, desserts and snack foods. These foods usually offer little or no nutritional value. With one out of every three children and adolescents’ being overweight or obese, reducing added sugar in your family’s diet is a good way to promote better health and weight management.
Stroll down any aisle in your grocery store, and you are bound to run across foods full of added sugar—from ketchup and dressings to flavored yogurt, cereals and even peanut butter.
When you are at the grocery store, try looking at the nutrition facts label. It can be confusing, but you can keep your eyes open for a few simple things. Pay attention to the sugar amount relative to the serving size. More importantly, check the ingredients list for hidden sources of sugar like:
- corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup
- syrup/maple syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- dextrose (or ingredients ending in “ose”)
- brown sugar
If the first or second item on the ingredient list is a sugar, you may want to avoid that product. By being aware of how much sugar your favorite food products have in them, you can make healthier choices for you and your family.