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How Much Sugar Are You Eating?

 

 

 

One hundred and fifty-six pounds. That's how much added sugar Americans consume each year on a per capita basis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Imagine it: 31 five-pound bags for each of us.

That's not to say that we get most of the sugar in our diets directly from the sugar bowl. Only about 29 pounds of it comes as traditional sugar, or sucrose, according to The Sugar Association, a trade group of sugar manufacturers. The rest comes from foods.

Of course, those foods include things like candy, soda, and junk food. But plenty of sugar is hiding in places where you might not expect it.

Some types of crackers, yogurt, ketchup, and peanut butter, for instance, are loaded with sugar -- often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. Use of this sweetener has increased 3.5% per year in the last decade, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That's twice the rate at which the use of refined sugar has grown.

Where is all that sugar going? In the U.S. diet, the major source of added sugar -- not including naturally occurring sugars, like the fructose in fruit -- is soft drinks. They account for 33% of all added sugars consumed.

According to the USDA, sweetened fruit drinks account for 10% of the total added sugars we consume. Candy and cake come in at 5% each. Ready-to-eat cereal comprises 4% of the total. So do each of these categories: table sugar and honey; cookies and brownies; and syrups and toppings.

The biggest chunk, making up 26% of added sugars, comes from a variety of prepared foods like ketchup, canned vegetables and fruits, and peanut butter.

Another high-sugar category? Low-fat products, which may not be as good for your diet as you think. Some contain plenty of sugar to make up for the lack of tasty fat.

People are often surprised that a low-fat product may not be that different in calories than regular products. A good example is fat-free or low-fat salad dressing, which can be high in sugar.

So what's so bad about all this sugar? After all, sugar can certainly be part of a healthy diet. And while it can cause cavities, there's no firm evidence that it's directly linked to diabetes or other serious health problem.

The problem comes when we simply take in too many calories.

It's really the extra calories from sugar in our diet that causes health problems like diabetes and obesity, not anything inherently unhealthy about sugar itself.Foods with a lot of sugar taste good, so we eat can eat too much of them.The one area where this fact stands out is in drinks. In the last 20 years, we've seen an explosion of sugared drinks in the marketplace: teas, sports drinks, juice-based drinks.

In fact, between 1987 and 1997, consumption of "added sugar" in the United States grew 20%. This trend is also being seen in the developing world, according to the WHO.

That's one reason both the United Nations and the World Health Organization released guidelines in 2003 that say sugar should account for no more than 10% of daily calories. In a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that's just 200 calories -- or eight heaping teaspoons of table sugar at 25 calories each. A single can of regular soda, with the equivalent of 10 teaspoons, would put you over.

If you want to avoid hidden sugar:

 

  • Read food labels. Ingredients are listed in order of volume, so anything with sugar, corn syrup, glucose (or, in general, words ending in "-ose") near the top of the list is likely to be high in sugar.

  • When you do choose a product with added sugar, watch your portion size.

  • Simply avoid processed foods as much as you can -- especially sodas and other sweetened beverages.