The hidden and real dangers of added sugars

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to cut down on sugar. This doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment since I’m not a sweet tooth. Sure, I love a good scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt occasionally, but I’ve never been a big cake, pie, cookie, or brownie-type of guy. I also have a strong aversion to “sweet” savory foods. I want my delicious food to be super rich and, well…delicious, without any of that messy sweet flavor.

Unfortunately, if you combine any type of dairy with some type of sweetener or flavoring and a few shots of espresso, you’ll get me. Between coffee drinks and Mountain Dew, in all its bright, neon green glory, I love a sweet drink, but even those indulgences are relatively easy to curb.

However, where things get tricky is not eliminating soda, candy, cookies, and chocolate — but when there’s excess sugar in places where you might not expect it, like your salad dressing or your protein. Shake. These are known as “added sugars” or the slightly more ominous “hidden sugars,” and everyone from Harvard Health to Johns Hopkins have issued warnings about how widespread they are. But in our current food system, where Americans are eating more and more ultra-processed foods, is it really possible to avoid them?

“They’re only ‘hidden’ if you don’t know what to look for,” said Jessica Sylvester, a clinical, registered dietitian, nutrition practice owner and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Added sugars are defined as any sugar added in addition to naturally occurring or present sugars, such as those found in fruits. According to Nicole Dandrea-Russert, a dietitian and author of “The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook,” the purpose of added sugar is usually to “enhance flavor, texture, shelf life, or other properties.”

“They’re only ‘hidden’ if you don’t know what to look for.”

Dandrea-Russert warns that some products are marketed as “healthy,” but they’re actually anything but—they’re claiming to be so just because they’re not made with traditional sugar. Certified diabetes care and education specialist Deborah Malkoff-Cohen actually notes that sugar has 62 different names, from agave and malt syrup to dextrose and barley malt. Also, keep an eye out for sugars that end in “-oz,” like fructose or dextrose, as well as any syrups, cane juice or fruit juice concentrates (“because,” as Dandrea-Russert said. , “It is condensed and does not contain (as whole fruit does), it is considered added sugar”).

According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar per day and women should limit their consumption to 25 grams — but in a world of added and hidden sugars, that limit can be reached relatively quickly. Could. You may be going to town and consuming a certain product on a daily basis that you mistakenly believe to be “healthy” and it is actually increasing your sugar consumption exponentially.

For example, Malkoff-Cohen uses a specific example of Greek yogurt: A plain carton may have a total of three sugars with no added sugars, while a carton of flavored yogurt may have a total of 11 with 7 grams of added sugars. Contains sugar. Obviously there is a huge difference, and the key to understanding it lies on the harmful nutrition labels.

It may be tempting to avoid nutrition labels, but Malkhoff-Cohen advises consumers to become a “label detective” to avoid these secret sweet items or products, especially if you want to prioritize your health in the new year.

Besides yogurt, Dandrea-Rasser points to salad dressings as a big culprit when it comes to hidden sugars, while Malkhoff-Cohen lists other common culprits: pasta sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, cereals. , coleslaw and dried fruits. Drinks, including soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, are often loaded with added sugars. Dandrea-Russert also specifically mentions chocolate milk, which “can contain up to 12 grams of added sugar, making 24 grams of sugar for just one cup of chocolate milk.”

So, where to start if you want to start cutting out added and hidden sugars from your diet? Malkoff-Cohen offers some straightforward suggestions. The first is to prefer foods that come without packaging – such as fresh fruits and vegetables – as they will not have added sugars to prolong shelf life. She also recommends “eating the real thing” when it comes to sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, but in smaller portions. She also says that in many cases, artificial sweeteners may actually be more of a concern than “real sugar”; From aspartame to acesulfame potassium and sucralose, all of these apparently “better for you” options may actually lead to higher coronary artery disease risk.

Worried about how your body (and taste buds) will react to the changes? Well, did you know that our taste buds actually change on a weekly basis? Sylvester says that “how we perceive flavor is influenced by the foods we’re used to eating and any changes in our palate,” referencing that if you can legitimately avoid all sugars and If you eliminate artificial sweeteners, you’ll be surprised at how naturally sweet many foods actually are in their own right.

She challenges consumers to test it out for themselves – eliminate all sugars and artificial sweeteners for two weeks and observe your taste, behavior and physical changes – you may be surprised to find that some “diet” foods, Because of how sugary drinks and candies can seem (often due to the fact that most artificial sweeteners are actually much more “powerful in sweetness” than sugar, as Sylvester puts it.)

Dandrea-Russert agrees that it is completely possible to eliminate any and all added sugars from your diet and that gradually “you can reduce and eventually eliminate added sugar from your diet.” Use whole foods, fruits, date paste, make your own salad dressings and soon enough, your “taste buds will gradually become accustomed to less sweetness.”

Although eliminating these harmful sugars may be troublesome, it is certainly both feasible and possible. Deciding what to have for dinner or breakfast may require a little more vigilance and research.

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