How Much Sugar Is Hiding In The Food You Eating?

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Sugars are naturally present in the tissues of most plants, but it is primarily extracted from sugarcane and sugar beet. These are rich with vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals and carbohydrates in the form of sucrose. During the refining process, they lose all their natural components except sucrose.

Many fruits and vegetables like ripe dates, mangoes or sweet peas are naturally high in sucrose sugar. When consumed in the form of whole foods it breaks down slowly and provides nutrients along with energy. But the sucrose that is isolated and concentrated into what we know as table sugar impacts our body differently. These are pure, refined carbohydrates that lack the natural minerals present in sugar cane or beet.  Refined sugar is stripped of all its nutritional value. It is what health experts call, a source of empty calories.

Don’t get me wrong. We need some sugar in our diet. It is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in many forms from lactose in milk to fructose in fruits and honey. All carbohydrates are converted into glucose in our body to give us energy and keep our brain active. But Dr. Rupali Datta, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis-Escorts Hospital also makes a point, “When we talk about carbohydrates, we mean complex carbs that are derived from starches or natural sugars present in fruits.

These give you nutrients along with energy. Refined sugar that you add to tea, coffee or in desserts is not a dietary requirement. It’s used for flavour and doesn’t provide your body with anything.” This is the case of natural sugar versus added sugar. Processed sugar is the sweetest poisons of them all. It is refined, boiled, evaporated, concentrated, goes through a series of chemical reactions and then transformed into many forms you may not even know about.

In scientific literature, sucrose or your table sugar is combination of glucose and fructose. Few of us get through the day without a dose of those pearl-white crystals. I don’t suggest you give up life’s little pleasures. The problem is that we’re consuming too much of it, consciously and unconsciously in packaged foods that supply energy in the form of calories.

Dr. Robert Lustig who is a paediatric endocrinologist and childhood obesity expert at the University of California is in agreement. In his book, “Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar”, he throws the spotlight on fructose that makes up 50% of refined sugar and is found in most pre-made foods. A lot of scientific evidence shows that the increasing amount of sugar in our diet has led to the obesity epidemic especially amongst children. It’s easy to understand why. He explains that there is no hormone to remove fructose from our bloodstream and therefore it is stored in the liver in the form of glucose.

Excess sugar is returned to the blood in the form of fatty acids or triglycerides. These are taken to other parts of the body and stored in inactive areas like the belly, hips and thighs that can lead to weight gain. When these areas are filled to the maximum capacity, fatty acids may be transported to active organs like the heart and kidneys which put you at a further greater risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol. Moreover, heavy intake of sugar robs your body of the precious vitamins and minerals that are mobilized in chemical reactions to break it down and restore the acid-alkaline balance factor of the blood.

The new guideline by World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults and children to restrict their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to foods and drinks.

Look on the label

Discover how much sugar is in your food by doing these simple checks:

  • Look at the ‘carbs as sugars’ on the nutrition panel. This includes both natural and added sugars. Less than 5g per 100g is low, more than 22.5g per 100g is high.
  • Check the ingredients list for anything ending in ‘ose’ (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose). These are all forms of sugar, as are honey, agave, molasses and syrups like corn and rice syrup. The higher up the ingredients list these are, the more sugar the product contains.
  • Know your substitute. For example, xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. These occur naturally in small amounts in plants and fruits and are often used in low-calorie products to provide sweetness but with fewer calories. Xylitol can be used in home baking as a replacement for regular sugar (ratio 1:1) although your bakes won’t brown as much and xylitol can’t be used where yeast is the raising agent.

The bitter sweet truth

In the UK, we consume over two million tonnes of sugar every year. Yet we often don’t know we’re eating it. Most of us are aware that sweet stuff should be eaten in moderation. But some food and drinks contain a surprising amount of sugar, which means you could be consuming far much more than you should. many of us are consuming far more than we think. There’s sugar ‘hiding’ in food and drink that might surprise us.

Manufacturers often add extra sugar to food because it makes them taste better. When fat is removed from a processed meal, for example, sugar is often added to help disguise the blander taste.

Because of this, many foods we think of as wholesome – like yoghurt, granola bars, low-fat snacks and fruit-flavoured water – may actually contain much more sugar than we realise.

Like salt, these so called ‘added sugars’ help extend the shelf life of some foods, such as bread, breakfast cereals and tinned fruit and vegetables.

Doctors worry that this makes it too easy to eat more sugar than our bodies can handle – because we don’t always know when we’re eating it.

Sugar traps

Some of the added sugar we consume is found in the food and drink we think of as healthy or savoury, such as low-fat yoghurt and sauces.

Manufacturers love sugar

Extra sugar is added to some products because it makes them taste better. When fat is removed from a processed meal, for example, sugar is often added to help disguise the blander taste.

Because of this, many foods we think of as wholesome – like yoghurt, granola bars, low-fat snacks and fruit-flavoured water – may actually contain much more sugar than we think

Like salt, these so called ‘added sugars’ help extend the shelf life of foods like bread, breakfast cereals and tinned fruit and vegetables.

This can result in us eating more sugar than our bodies can handle – because we don’t always know when we’re eating it.

The dangers of hidden sugar

Michael talks to public health professor Simon Capewell about the risks of eating too much sugar. Clip from Trust Me, I’m A Doctor (BBC Two).

If we consume more sugar than we need, our liver converts the excess into fat. Some of this fat is stored around the body.

This is why repeatedly eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain and even obesity, leading to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

Tooth decay is also more likely, as bacteria in our mouths feast on the sugary foods we eat and produce acids that dissolve our tooth enamel.

Spotting high-sugar foods

Working out how much sugar is in your food or drink can be confusing, as it appears in many different guises, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose and honey.

Food manufacturers are not required by law to separate added sugars from naturally occurring sugars on a nutrition label, but you can find out how much total sugar is in a product by looking for the ‘carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ figure.

More than 15g of total sugars per 100g means it has a high sugar content, 5g of total sugars or less per 100g means it has a low sugar content.

How much sugar should I be eating?

Sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in a host of different foods, from lactose in milk to fructose in fruit and honey. There are two types of sugar: naturally occurring sugar (such as the lactose in milk) and added or ‘free’ sugars that include refined table sugar (sucrose) as well as concentrated sources like fruit juice, honey and syrups. Health organisations including the NHS advise we cut back on these ‘free sugars’.

The new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s official nutrition advisors are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately seven sugar cubes (30g). Children should have less – no more than 19g a day for children aged 4-6 years old (five sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (six sugar cubes) for children aged 7-10 years old.

Why is sugar bad for you?

If you’re very active and exercise regularly some sugar in your diet helps supply ready energy to fuel your muscles and keep your brain active. The problem for the majority of us is that many of the processed foods we eat – in particular, those marketed to children – have added sugar that supplies energy in the form of calories, and very little else, so we end up consuming more than we need. A high intake of sugar causes our blood sugar levels to shoot up, giving us that feel-good ‘high’ followed by a crashing slump that leaves us tired, irritable and craving more sugary foods. It’s a vicious cycle that may be contributing to our weight problems as well as health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

What happens if you eat too much sugar?

Sugar is not inherently bad for you – it’s the amount and how frequently you eat it that matters.

When we eat food, the sugars are broken down into glucose and fructose, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. However fructose must then be converted into glucose in the liver.

If we consume more sugar than we burn through activity our liver converts the excess glucose into fat. Some of this fat stays in the liver but the rest is stored in fatty tissues around the body.

This is why repeatedly eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, and even obesity, when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.

Here are some other health problems that can be caused by eating too much sugar:

Diabetes:

Consuming too much sugar in your diet can lead to obesity, which increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Those with this condition don’t produce enough insulin and aren’t sensitive enough to what’s produced. Blood sugar levels aren’t regulated properly leading to thirst and tiredness in the short-term and damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs if left untreated.

Heart disease:

Obesity also raises blood pressure and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels while lowering levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. These all contribute to raising the risk of heart disease.

Fatty liver disease:

Excess sugar can be stored as fat in the liver. The condition has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and even liver cancer.

Tooth decay:

When we eat sugary foods, bacteria in our mouths break down the carbohydrates and produce acids that dissolve minerals in our tooth enamel. The longer the sugar is in contact with teeth, the more damage bacteria can cause. Left untreated this can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss.

Bad mood:

Sugary foods like chocolate, cake and biscuits have been labelled ‘bad mood food’ by the NHS. They can give you a quick burst of energy by causing a sharp increase in blood sugar, but when levels fall this can make your mood dip. This cycle can make you feel irritable, anxious, and tired.

How can I tell if I’m eating sugar in disguise?

Working out how much sugar is in your food or drink can be confusing as it appears under many different disguises, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose and honey.

Food manufacturers are not required by law to separate added sugars from naturally occurring sugars on a nutrition label, but you can find out how much total sugar is in a product by looking for the ‘carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ figure.

More than 15g of total sugars per 100g means it has a high sugar content, 5g of total sugars or less per 100g means it has a low sugar content.

Foods Containing Added Sugars

The major sources of added sugars are regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks dairy products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt ) and some grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles).  For example – one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains eight teaspoons of sugar, or 130 calories.

How much sugar is in that?

To figure out if a packaged food contains added sugars, and how much, you have to be a bit of a detective. On the Nutrition Facts panel, the line for sugars contains both the natural and added types as total grams of sugar. There are four calories in each gram, so if a product has 15 grams of sugar per serving, that’s 60 calories just from the sugar alone, not counting the other ingredients.

The hidden ingredient with many different names

One of the easiest ways to recognize sugar on a food label is by recognizing the -ose suffix. When you find words that end in -ose, there’s a good chance it is sugar. Sugars ending in -ose are:

More Names for Sugar

Just because it doesn’t end in -ose, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t sugar. There are plenty of other names as well that may or may not sound like sugar.  Other names for sugar include:

  • high fructose corn syrup,
  • molasses,
  • cane sugar,  raw sugar, beet sugar
  • corn sweetener,  corn syrup
  • raw sugar,
  • syrup, maple syrup
  • honey
  • carmel
  • fruit  juice, fruit juice concentrate
  • Dextrin,  Maltodextrin ,  Dextran
  • Barley malt
  • Turbinado
  • Diatase, Diatastic malt

Finding sugar on food labels can be tricky, but not impossible. When you are armed with the right information and a willingness to read food labels, you will be more likely to spot sugar in its many forms.

Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Diet:

  • Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there, or consider using an artificial sweetener.
  • Buy sugar-free or low-calorie beverages.
  • Buy fresh fruits or fruits canned in water or natural juice.
  • Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit
  • When baking, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes (use equal amounts).
  • Try non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose or saccharin in moderation. Non-nutritive sweeteners may be a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding more calories to your diet. The FDA has determined that non-nutritive sweeteners are safe.

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