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Added Sugars, are they really a bad thing?

Posted 8/12/2015

Person reading nutrition label

There are two types of sugars in American diets: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.

1. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). They are part of the food’s total nutrient package.

2. Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or using fruit packed in heavy syrup). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).

There are a number of reasons that sugars are added to foods. Sugar helps to balance flavor components in foods, improving flavor and palatability. It is often used as a preservative in foods. Sugar also improves the flow (viscosity) of products, improves texture of foods, acts as a browning agent in foods and plays a vital role in the raising of cakes and dough. You can use sugars to help enhance your diet. Adding a limited amount of sugar to improve the taste of foods that provide important nutrients (especially for children), such as whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, is better than eating nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.

Unfortunately, people seem to ignore that one little word “limited.” Although sugars are not harmful to the body, our bodies don’t need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food. Eating foods with added sugars can cause people to eat fewer nutrient-rich foods and can increase total calories they take in.

The average American eats 21—22 teaspoons of added sugar per day—about 16 percent of daily calories. Major sources of added sugars include soda, energy and sports drinks, grain-based desserts (like cake and cookies), sugar-sweetened fruit drinks (not 100% juice), dairy-based desserts (like ice cream and cream pies) and candy.

Sugar clip art

Try these simple tips to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet:

Split a candy bar or cupcake with a friend.

Learn to read the nutrition facts label and choose foods with less sugar more often.

Challenge your kids when you go shopping. Have them compare cereals they like and choose the one with the least sugar.

Drink water or fat-free milk instead of soda or other sweet drinks.

Make fruit the everyday dessert! Try baked apples, a fruit salad or frozen (100 percent) juice bars.

Susan Lednicky is a Nutritionist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email or call Lednicky at 702-257-5548.

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