Clearing Up the Confusion About Hidden Sugar

A recent article in Nutraceuticals World indicates that Americans have a long way to go towards consuming a healthy diet; and they are aware of the problem. According to new research from Mintel, only 42% of people in the United States think they eat a healthy diet.

But simply knowing that the problem exists isn’t enough. People do not seem to trust nutrition information on food labels: only 16% believe the claims on food and beverage packages. From the Mintel study, health-conscious consumers are “staying away from products containing high-fructose corn syrup (50%), sugar (47%), trans fat (45%) and saturated fat (43%).”

But most consumers often lack the nutrition, health and science background to safely navigate their way through the minefield of unhealthy food products at the grocery store. In a recent Atkins Sugar Gap Study, only one in 10 Americans were aware of hidden sugars in their food: “The gap in America’s nutrition knowledge continues to widen as consumers have little understanding of what comprises healthy, nutritious foods as well as how the body responds to various foods.”

Some added sugars are pretty obvious, like jams and jellies, table sugar, honey and syrup. Then there’s the 53 gallons of sugary soft drinks that the average American consumes every year. Other overt sugar sources include treats like cakes and cookies, candies and frozen desserts.

What are “Hidden Sugars”?

“Hidden sugars” refers to added sugars in foods that you may not notice, often because the foods are not obviously sweet. Nearly a quarter of the sugar we eat is hidden away in processed foods. For example, a serving of pasta sauce could harbor nearly five teaspoons of sugar. And 80% of the calories in some popular ketchup varieties come from sugar. Sugar is also often found in everything from soups to salad dressings.

Here are five ways to reduce sugar intake:

Read Nutrition Labels.

Try to avoid foods with a lot of sucrose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, corn syrup, molasses and the other forms of sugar added to foods. On the flip side, be aware that some sugars naturally occur in foods. The lactose in milk and the fructose in fruit, for example, will show up on the nutrition facts panel as “sugar” even though no sugar is added.

Use natural sweeteners like fruit.

Many foods that come pre-sweetened, like cereals, yogurt, salad dressings or ‘alternative’ milks (rice, hemp, soy, etc.), have surprising amounts of sugar. To cut sugar even further, try sweetening cereal with a sliced banana or a handful of berries. And here’s another trick: try dropping a whole date or a few raisins and a few drops of vanilla extract into a carton of unsweetened milk alternative. It adds lots of flavor with just a trace of sugar.

Enjoy naturally sweet flavors.

Fruits are a preferable substitute for sugary desserts and sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or clove can add sweet notes to fruits, cereals or yogurt in place of sugar.

Cut back on liquid sugar.

Cut back on soft drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and fruity drinks like lemonade. Instead, try flavorful teas, or add some citrus peel or a slice of fruit to water for a calorie-free beverage.

Visualize sugar intake.

Every four grams of sugar that’s listed on the nutrition facts panel is equal to a teaspoon of sugar—or about one sugar cube.

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.