As a whole, Americans are eating too much sugar in their diets. On average, adults consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day and teenagers are consuming 34 teaspoons. This adds up to a consumption of at least 64 pounds of sugar a year. We are consuming more sugar-filled foods than ever before and are adding hundreds of extra calories to our diets every day. The trouble is that most people don’t know how much extra sugar they are eating because it is hiding in many of the foods they eat. And it is often hiding in the foods that we least expect to be filled with added sugar.
The dangers of eating sugar in excess and the amount of hidden sugars in foods coupled with the difficulty of identifying added sugars reinforces the need to educate your audiences about healthy eating and how to understand food labels. To make healthy decision, people need information, but more than that, they need to be able to understand the information. Added sugars are particularly tricky because there’s no single term that tells you “this has sugar in it.” When discussing components of a healthy diet, health communicators and providers should keep in mind that these “hidden” traps can wreak havoc. An educated audience is a healthy one!
Many of the hidden sugars in foods are added sugar such as syrups that are added to foods and drinks during processing. Added sugars have several different names and come in many forms. The most common forms are corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, molasses, and agave nectar. Other words that indicate common forms of sugar end in “-ose.”
It is estimated that the sugar in processed foods accounts for about 50 percent of the sugar we eat. Sugar is added to processed foods because it is a cheap additive, is tasty, and can be addicting. Added sugar can be found in many foods that we regularly eat. These foods include breads, peanut butter, tomato sauce, ketchup, breakfast cereals, and salad dressings. Many foods that we would consider “healthy” can also contain more sugar than one would expect. These foods include sports drinks, flavored yogurts, dried fruits, canned fruits and vegetables, granola, prepackaged oatmeal, and protein bars.
These added sugars can have a detrimental effect on our health and can cause long term health problem. The added sugars are adding extra, nutritionally empty calories to our diets. These extra calories can contribute to weight gain that if not controlled can lead to obesity, which can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease and high cholesterol. Eating sugar in excess can affect your blood glucose levels and the way your body metabolizes the sugar, increasing your risk for developing diabetes.
Current nutrition labels include all sugar in one number. If the new nutrition labels proposed by the FDA passes, it will be easier to determine how much added sugar there is in a food because individual types of added sugar will need to be listed separately from naturally occurring sugar. In the meantime, you will need to read the ingredients label to determine the amount of added sugars.