By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences
Sugar, like other parts of the American diet, has been villainized with warnings to avoid added sugar. While it is suspected of contributing to many chronic diseases more studies are needed to verify that obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are directly caused by eating too much added sugar. Various behaviors could contribute to chronic disease making it hard to conclude sugar is the sole culprit. Even though sugar may not be the only reason for chronic disease it is widely overconsumed by Americans. Moderate consumption of sugar could reduce the incidence of chronic diseases especially when combined with physical activity.
There is not a specific recommendation for added sugar, but rather a range for daily consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that less than 10% of daily caloric intake contains added sugar. The American Heart Association suggests six teaspoons for women and nine for men daily which equates to about 5-7% of total calorie consumption based on a 2,000-calorie diet. If a person has adequate nutrient dense food, then there should be little room for foods and drinks that are high in added sugar. Plainly stated eating a well-balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, low fat or fat free dairy and whole grains will leave little need for products that are high in added sugar. Added sugar and products with high amounts of added sugar are generally low in nutrients and high in calories. Lack of physical activity and too many high calorie foods can result in difficulty maintaining a healthy weight which is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting consumption of sugary beverages. Eating added sugar in moderation and a high-quality nutrient dense diet is best to maintain a healthy weight.
The Nutrition Facts Label has recently started including added sugar so that American’s can better understand how much sugar is in a product. Added sugars are those sugars that do not occur naturally in the product. Added sugar is shown in grams and 4 grams is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. Total sugars on the label are added sugar and naturally occurring sugar combined. On the far left of the Nutrition Facts Label there is a percentage, and this shows the percentage of daily consumption. For instance, if the label says 83% it means it is 83% of the suggested 10% daily allowance for added sugar for the day, leaving 17% more added sugar to make the daily suggestion. Some foods that are high in added sugar are easy to identify however others might be a surprise so reading the Nutrition Facts Label will assist with determining how much added sugar is in a product.
If eating too much added sugar is a concern making small changes each day will help reduce intake. For instance, store bought tea and coffee can be high in added sugar so substituting one or two a week and making it at home could reduce intake. Making sauces or soups from scratch is another option, despite being salty tasting many condiments like salad dressing, ketchup and barbeque sauce have substantial amounts of added sugar. If making condiments yourself is not feasible measure them out to avoid eating too much. Eat whole foods like fruits to sweeten up the day rather than packaged foods. Substitute fruit where jelly is usually added to sandwiches. Substitute water for sugary beverages and add fresh fruit like lemons, oranges, or strawberry slices for flavor. Make one change at a time to reduce added sugar intake and make sure to be physically active.