Chew on this: 07/07

Hide the sugar

By Jayne Powers


We eat it. Drink it. Sing about it. Scrub ourselves with it and find industrial uses for it.

The all-around substance I’m referring to is the white stuff we know as sugar, or sucrose—a molecule responsible for wreaking havoc on the American diet.

The average person, for example, consumes more than 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, or about 88 grams. Given that there is 1 teaspoon of sugar in every 4 grams of sugar, 88 grams of sugar is the equivalent to eating about 1/2 cup of sugar a day. Eating sugar is eating empty calories. In other words, there is no nutritional value in eating sugar. It just makes food taste sweeter.

More importantly, it can adversely affect blood cholesterol and triglycerides, worsen blood sugar control, promote abdominal weight gain and pose other health risks, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Fortunately, regulating your diet and reducing sugar can mitigate many of these risks.

For as ubiquitous as sugar is, it is hidden in quite a lot of things. Sugar-sweetened beverages (not milk or 100 percent fruit juice) comprise the bulk of added sugars in our diet, according to the Sugar Working Group of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Pasta sauces, granola bars, yogurt, instant oatmeal, salad dressing, breakfast cereals, energy drinks, canned and packaged fruits, bottled ice tea and ketchup are some of the more unlikely products you might think of that contain added sugars.

Manufacturers add sweeteners to tomato-based sauces to help cut down on the acidity of the tomatoes for a more appealing taste. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of sugar. Some spaghetti sauces contain up to 2 teaspoons of sugar per half-cup.

Look for pasta sauce with “no sugar added” on the label or choose a jarred sauce that lists sweeteners near the very end of the ingredients list.

What’s more, there are many different names for sugar that are hiding on ingredient labels. They masquerade on labels under more than 50 different names so as to give the impression that a food product is a healthier choice.

That’s because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Where sugar is listed in relation to other ingredients indicates the amount of sugar contained in a particular food.

If manufacturers just used one sugar product, sugar would most likely wind up as the No. 1 ingredient rather than be spread among all of the other stuff packed in processed and low-fat foods.

Because the current nutrition facts label guidelines don’t require a separate line item stating the amount of added sugars in products (the new, proposed 2015 dietary guidelines do), it is important to become familiar with a few of their names and understand which products are likely to contain added sugars as opposed to the naturally occurring kind found in, say, fruit.

Besides adding several different types of sugar, manufacturers also like to remove the term “sugar” altogether in favor of a long, scientific-sounding term, such as “maltodextrin,” “diastatic malt” and “ethyl maltol.”

For example, if a manufacturer seeks to sweeten up its brand of cereal or crackers, it can use 15 grams of sugar and divvy up the sources like this: 7 grams of “malt syrup,” 4 grams of “invert sugar” and 4 grams of “glucose.”

Here are some other sugar synonyms: dehydrated cane juice, demerara sugar, fruit juice concentrate, golden syrup, mannitol, molasses, caramel, date sugar, muscovado, panoha, castor sugar, carob syrup, free flowing brown sugars, beet sugar, honey.

Just remember that anything ending in “ose” is sugar.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance.

For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types, such as malt syrup.

Unfortunately, we are predisposed to like sweet things, so denying our sweet tooth for sugar altogether is, I believe, the wrong way to go. I certainly agree, however, that we need to reduce our intake of sugar for the long haul.

Using artificial sweeteners is one way but don’t count on them as being an effective weight loss strategy. Instead, I would rely on eating fruit. Sure, it has sugar—and sometimes a lot—but fruit also has fiber and other important nutrients not found in table sugar.

And fruit recently joined vegetables as a zero-point food with Weight Watchers, a sensible diet program, in its first major overhaul of its points system in a decade, meaning that you can eat as much as you want as long as the fruit is not canned or dried or juice.

Weight Watchers cited clinical trials showing that people who ate as much fruit as they wanted did not consume too many extra calories. But the Weight Watchers website warns, “Don’t go completely crazy—if you already eat a lot of fruit each day, doubling or tripling that will result in slower weight loss.”

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at, or email your fitness questions to

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Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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