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Become a 'sugar detective' to find hidden calories

It goes by many names: Fructose, cane juice, barley malt, sorghum. Fifty-six to be exact.  

It’s in almost everything we buy at the store: Fruits and vegetables, cereal, yogurt and snacks. 

While sugar is naturally occurring in some of these items, many packaged products are crammed full of added sugars.

“There’s a lot of buzz about sugar,” says Barbie Anderson, RN, a certified health coach at Ascension Via Christi Occupational Health in Manhattan. “The thing is, our bodies don’t need sugar. It’s not a necessary nutrient.

“We all know that sugar causes cavities and can cause you to gain weight if you eat too much of it, but studies have linked it to chronic illnesses too.”

In the 1970s, scientists found the correlation between fat in our diet and high blood cholesterol levels. In the 1980s, food manufacturers created a solution: package a variety of low-fat and fat-free products. 

“Do you know what the food industry adds to fat-free and low-fat food to make it taste good? Sugar,” Anderson says. “So, we decreased the amount of fat we’re eating since the 1970s, but the number of people with chronic illnesses hasn’t declined.”

Sugar is an inflammatory property – it can affect your joints, she added. Over time, Anderson’s clients have expressed that they are less tired and have more energy after cutting back on sugar.

Anderson added that it is believed that the corn surplus in the 1970s had something to do with the addition of high-fructose corn syrup into products like sodas, cereal and other food items.

“In 1822, the average American ate about five pounds of sugar a year; that’s a 12-ounce soda every five days,” she said. “In 2015, the average American is consuming about 100 pounds of sugar a year, or a 12-ounce soda every seven hours.”

The World Health Organization recommends that individuals only get 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. They added that increased health benefits can be derived from cutting your added sugar intake even lower, to 5 percent of daily calories. If you are looking at the food label, this is about 30-35 grams of added sugar for the average person. Naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products don’t count in the 30-35 grams.

Anderson urges her patients to become “sugar detectives.” While it might take longer at the grocery store, people really need to start reading the labels. When you look at the ingredient list on a food label, they are listed in order of how much of each is found in the food. Because there are so many types of added sugar, food manufacturers add several types to bury them on food labels.

“There may not be much of one type of sugar, but it could be a lot when you add it all up,” Anderson explains. “Also, food labels don’t tell you how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much was added to the product.”

Anderson recommends that people look for products with lower sugar content.

“One of the food items that has the most sugar is breakfast cereal,” she said. “Be a good role model for your kids. Being a good role model is the best way to educate your kids about what they are eating. Also, just because something – like milk – is full fat doesn’t make it bad. Just be sure to adhere to the recommended serving size.”

About Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy is the Senior Marketing Specialist for Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg and Wamego Health Center. She is a proud wife and mom and loves cooking, camping and spending time outdoors, her dogs and reading.