The FDA recently proposed putting added sugars on a product’s nutrient label, a move that did not please the food industry. As consumers become savvier, manufacturers seem determined to make understanding sugar even more confusing.
Sticking with a whole food, unprocessed diet is the easiest way to avoid sugar confusion. When you eat broccoli or quinoa, you don't need to worry about added sugar or sneaky sweeteners. But we live in the real world, which means sometimes you’re going to eat processed foods or add a little sweetener to your green tea. When you do, keep these seven rules in mind to make the best decisions:
1. Remember: added sugar is worse than total sugar.
All sugars ultimately have the same effect on your body, breaking down to glucose and fructose. That said, sugar in fruit and other whole foods comes wrapped with nutrients, phytonutrients, fiber and other good stuff that buffers its effects. Added sugars, on the other hand, often come in nutrient-empty, heavily-processed foods, which automatically deems them worse for your waistline and your health.
2. Sugar hides under innocuous-sounding names.
Manufacturers hide sugar under seemingly healthy names like fruit juice concentrate. Your pancreas and liver don’t care whether sugar comes in an organic package or carries a pretty name. It all breaks down the exact same way.
3. Sneaky sugars lurk in "healthy" foods.
Visit your health food store and you’ll likely discover numerous products sweetened with agave nectar, honey and other so-called healthy sweeteners. Don’t be fooled. A tiny cup of yogurt could have as much sugar as a candy bar. Look at the nutrient label for sugar amounts, being aware this is for one serving and you’re likely to eat several portions.
4. Artificial sweeteners aren’t better for you.
For far too long, artificial sweeteners got a free pass. Then a few troubling studies surfaced that found, among other things, aspartame and other sweeteners created glucose intolerance (paving the way for Type 2 diabetes) and gut-flora imbalances. Steer clear of those pretty pink, yellow, and blue packages.
5. Green juices can have as much sugar as a soda.
One popular commercial green juice, which actually contains more fruit than veggies, packs almost 55 grams — that’s 11 teaspoons — of sugar in a 15.2-ounce bottle. If you juice, make your own or ask your juicer to only add veggies with maybe a little lemon for flavor.
6. Be judicious when buying natural alternative sweeteners.
If you have to sweeten your coffee or tea, erythritol or stevia provide better (and even health-promoting) options. Just be aware many commercial varieties come loaded with nebulous “natural flavors,” dextrose (sugar) and maltodextrin (corn). Instead, look for a 100 percent stevia or a stevia/ erythritol blend with no bulking agents or other added ingredients.
7. Fructose is especially metabolically damaging.
Unlike glucose, which nearly every cell can utilize, fructose heads directly to your liver, the only organ that can metabolize high levels of it. Studies show that fructose induces less insulin production and triggers hunger signals in the brain. Rather than utilize this sugar for energy, our body often turns fructose into liver fat. This increase in visceral fat has been shown to increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
And if you'd like to reduce your sugar intake, here are 25 tips to get you started.