Beyond the treats: We are tricked into eating added sugar all the time

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This week, many of us will focus on tricks and treats as we celebrate Halloween. And, there’s a lot of emphasis on the sugar offered to us and to our families.

These once-a-year treats scare me much less than the added sugar in the foods we eat every day. While there’s a focus on treats this week, why don’t we think more about the added sugar that we are tricked into eating daily?

How much added sugar should we eat?

As little as possible. Too much added sugar can hurt our health. This is why the American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons per day, and men limit to 9 teaspoons per day. The reality is that the average American eats about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, which measures out to about 38 pounds of sugar each year. 1 In the end, according to the Food and Drug Administration, Americans consume about 16 percent of our total calories from added sugars.

How can you tell how much sugar is added to a food?

First, take a look at the nutrition facts label. Grams of sugar is listed under “total carbohydrates.” Keep in mind, however, that the grams of sugar listed on the nutrition facts label include sugars that occur naturally in the food (like the natural sugars in fruit and plain milk). So, you have to check the ingredient list for specifics on added sugars.

If any sugar is listed on the nutrition facts label, check out the ingredients list.

Sugar can be listed in many different ways. Pooja R. Mottl published a great post on how to spot sugar in foods. From this post, I pulled a list of 17 possible words that indicate added sugar that you might find the ingredients list:

1. Sugar
2. Brown sugar
3. Sweetener
4. Corn syrup
5. Dextrose
6. Glucose
7. High-fructose corn syrup
8. Invert sugar
9. Maltose
10. Malt syrup
11. Sucrose
12. Sugar syrup
13. Cane crystals
14. Cane sugar
15. Evaporated cane juice
16. Corn syrup solids
17. Malt syrup

If you find grams of sugar on the nutrition facts label and sugar (or a word like it) in the ingredients list, you know that there is added sugar in the food.


Foods that might contain added sugars

In addition to desserts, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages, here’s a quick list of 19 foods that might contain added sugars. When you are shopping in the grocery store and have these foods on your grocery list, compare labels to choose the option with the least amount of sugar. If you simply cannot find this food without added sugar, you might decide to make the food at home to avoid it.

1. Breakfast Cereal
2. Bread
3. Boxed grains (like Spanish rice)
4. Crackers (especially “honey wheat”)
5. Dips (especially premade)
6. Dressing
7. Frozen dinners
8. Granola
9. Ketchup
10. Mustard
11. Pasta Sauce
12. Peanut butter
13. Relish
14. Salsa
15. Sauces (like teriyaki)
16. Sausage
17. Seasoning packets (taco seasoning, for example)
18. Soup
19. Yogurt (flavored) 2

What we’re doing about added sugar

Currently, no daily reference value (that percent sign on the nutrition facts label) has been determined for added sugars. According to the Food and Drug Administration, this is because (among other reasons) in the past, no recommendations have been made for the total amount of sugar to limit in a day.

However, this is changing. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines scientific report talks a lot about sugars.

Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that oversees the nutrition facts label, is proposing an update to the nutrition facts label to include “added sugars” on the label. This way, we won’t have to take multiple steps to determine how much added sugar is in our food.

How do you watch for added sugar? Let us know by commenting here

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  1. At approximately 192 teaspoons in a pound (according to domino sugar), 20 teaspoons for 365 days would be approximately 38 pounds.
  2. While there is natural sugar in plain milk (just like natural sugar in fruits), sugar can be added to flavored yogurt