Sugar, how sweet it is – or is it?

March 01, 2019
Aiken Health News winter 2019

The impact of sugar and its effects on your health

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Americans are consuming too much added sugar. And most people aren’t even aware of just how much sugar is contained in everyday food and beverages. “Too much sugar equates to weight gain, which can increase blood pressure, blood sugars, heart disease risk and further exacerbate joint issues,” says Jackie Enlund, MPH, RD, LD.

What is added sugar?

Many whole foods have naturally occurring sugars, such as fruits, some vegetables and dairy products. But when sugar is added to something to make it sweeter, such as yogurt, fruit drinks and processed foods, it is referred to as “added sugar.” Enlund explains that the AHA guidelines suggest a daily limit of no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar for women, and no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar for men. “That’s not a lot of sugar, considering a 12-oz. can of soda has about eight teaspoons of added sugar. It really makes you think about your food choices and just how much additional sugar you are consuming,” she says. Enlund says that it’s getting easier to track added sugars now that the Food and Drug Administration requires the amount of added sugars on the nutrition labels. But she cautions to check the label’s serving size. “A lot of people tend to overlook that. The nutrition facts listed are per serving, not necessarily for the whole item,” she says. “Sweetened drinks are especially deceiving.”

What about sugar substitutes?

When patients ask about sugar substitutes or drinking diet soda, Enlund advises that large amounts of artificial sweetener, a sugar substitute, can be problematic. “The key is moderation. I recommend water, low-fat milk and adding lemon or fruit to water for flavoring,” she says. “A sugar-free flavored drink is okay to add variety, but not as the primary drink of the day.” Enlund also encourages patients to limit their use of sugar substitutes.

Consult a health professional

Regardless of your reasons to cut down on sugar, registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators stay current on scientific evidence-based recommendations to help you make the best informed decisions about your meal plan choices. “For those with diabetes, using a sugar substitute for long-term diabetes control is a better option than consuming excess sugar,” says Enlund.

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