Sugar, honey, molasses, brown sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. What do these have in common? They are all “added sugars” and it is likely that you are eating and drinking too much of them.
The United States Department of Agriculture reported that in the year 2000, the average American consumed 152 pounds of sugar! That is equal to consuming an average of 40 teaspoons of sugar each day. Last year, the USDA reported a reduction in sugar intake based on a new data collection method. Regardless of the methodology, remember that the results are based on “reported” consumption, which tends to be underestimated. Without a doubt, Americans are consuming too much sugar.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to limit our total intake of added sugars. But according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans consume about 13 percent of their total calories from added sugars. Consuming excess calories in the form of sugar leads to weight gain and replaces nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that sugary beverages are the single largest contributor to added calories from sugar in the American diet. In addition to sweetened beverages, sugar is found in nearly all processed foods, even those we might not expect, including breads, crackers, dressings, sauces and condiments. These “hidden sugars” lead to unintentional overconsumption of calories.
Many foods, such as sugary cereal, specialty coffee drinks and sodas, are consumed by many on a daily basis.
The increased use of high fructose corn syrup as an added sweetener has been identified as one of the key culprits in the overconsumption of sugar in the U.S. Some experts suggest that the increased use of this inexpensive sweetener is linked to the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic health disorders.
Presently, the effects of high fructose corn syrup are highly controversial and the research results are inconsistent. While it is true that overall calorie consumption from all foods has steadily climbed in the U.S., it is also recognized that a large portion of these excess calories are coming from high fructose corn syrup.
So, what is the bottom line?
The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 9 teaspoons per day for men and 6 teaspoons per day for women. Look for the grams of sugar per serving on the label and divide that number by four to get the number of teaspoons of sugar in each serving. Reducing intake of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, along with all caloric sweeteners, can help to reduce your intake of excess calories, which decreases risk of all weight related health problems.
Avoiding sugar completely is probably not a realistic goal for most of us, and may not be the most important aspect of a healthy diet. With the prevalence of hidden sugars in numerous processed foods, the importance of label reading is at an all-time high. Pay attention to serving sizes, try to avoid foods with added sugars, and remember that moderation and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are still key to any healthy diet.
Deborah Begley is Public Health Nutritionist, Supervisor at Solano County Health & Social Services, Public Health Division, a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.