You probably know what ketchup, barbeque sauce, yogurt, and salad dressing have in common, but did you know that pasta sauce, bread, soups, frozen breakfast egg sandwiches, and prepared salads may all have it too? Yes, they may have added sugar.
Beginning in the 1970s, when fat and saturated fat were identified as contributing to heart disease, low-fat products began to proliferate. These products are still widely available and are not likely to go away anytime soon. Replacing the fat in the products is sugar under a dizzying list of names. And sugar is now widely blamed for the America’s obesity crisis.
Can one food ingredient really be to blame for the obesity crisis? What can people do to protect themselves from hidden sources of sugar?
The blame game
Sugar intake in the U.S. has increased significantly. One hundred years ago, the average intake of added sugar in the American diet was 1 ½ tsp (6 grams) per day. In 2015, the average added sugar intake in the American diet was 24 tsp (100 grams) per day.
A recent New York Times review of the book, The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes, has garnered widespread attention with accusations that the sugar industry has buried research findings and paid researchers to downplay the negative impact of sugar.
A more nuanced perspective on sugar is available in the Atlantic noting that the truth may lie in the middle: sugar intake is likely worse than has been thought and fat intake is likely not as bad as it has been portrayed. Unsaturated fat (e.g., olive oil, canola oil) appear safer than saturated fat (e.g., in beef, bacon, butter) which are linked to heart disease.
While it would be nice to say that we have now found the real culprit that has made Americans overweight, the more likely explanation is that excess calories—from sugar, refined carbs, and fat—with less physical activity are the reasons why Americans are overweight and at risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Is there a way out of this sugary mess?
Beginning July 2018, food labels will be required to list the added sugar in grams (4 grams = 1 teaspoon sugar) on the food label to distinguish the sugar added from the sugar naturally occurring in food (e.g., the milk sugar in yogurt). Knowing that this requirement is looming, food manufacturers are taking steps to reduce added sugar, replace some or all of the sugar with artificial sweeteners, and create new products that do not contain as much sugar.
However, you can take steps to reduce your intake of sugar today. Eating whole, minimally processed foods will significantly limit the amount of sugar (as well as other additives) to which you and your loved ones are exposed.
Ready to commit to cleaner eating? Need motivation, defined goals, and clean eating strategies and recipes? Join us for the next nutrition challenge with a focus on clean eating beginning February 6!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN
Questions about the upcoming nutrition challenge beginning February 6? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.