Sugar in the Headlines

Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose)
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The American Heart Association has just published a report on sugar consumption [PDF] in its Circulation Journal. Not surprisingly, Americans are consuming way too many teaspoonfuls of ADDED SUGAR in our diet.

How much? 22 teaspoons worth on average!

If you think that’s not typical, just add up a  breakfast cereal (3 teaspoons),  lowfat strawberry yogurt (3 teaspoons), one can of soda pop (8 teaspoons), 3 teaspoons for three cups of coffee during the day, and a serving of ice cream for dessert (4 teaspoons). You’ll have reached a similar amount. And that’s not counting natural sugars.

Added sugar is found in refined and processed foods such as snacks, breakfast cereals and soft drinks. Sugar is also naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. And though our body reacts to sugar pretty much the same way no matter the source, when we eat fruits we also get the benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that helps us feel fuller, longer.

The by the AHA is interesting because traditionally the organization has endorsed some sugary foods as heart healthy. Companies have paid, and still pay, to get the AHA symbol on products that are low-fat, regardless of their sugar content. It’s good deal for both sides – the AHA gets much needed funds, and the companies get an “objective” approval of their product’s nutritional value.

Perhaps now the AHA will take a more holistic approach to is endorsements, and stop recommending foods that have taken out the fat but added sugar as compensation. Removing one “bad” nutrient and replacing it with another “bad” one has not done consumers any good. Just ask the 24 million diabetics and 1 million additions each year.

The nutrition panel on food products displays the total amount of sugar in a serving. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell us how much is naturally present and how much has been added. In some categories such as cereals, pastries, and sweet snacks, you can bet that most of the sugar, if not all, is not naturally present.

The FDA would do wisely to require added sugar to appear as a separate line in the nutrition panel. Until then, we’ll have to guess.

What to do at the supermarket:

The less processed a food, the less added sugars. Consuming sugars from natural sources such as fruits is excellent and tasty.

Most people, by just quitting soft drinks and drinking coffee straight, can drastically cut their refined sugar intake.

Leave the few teaspoons of added sugar to a nice scoop of ice cream over a fresh hot brownie.

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