The Hidden Ingredient That Can Sabotage Your Diet
Do you know how much sugar you're 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, says Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, a spokeswoman for the Sugar
Association. Clark is also director of sports nutrition in the athletic
department of Penn State University.
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
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
"People are often surprised that a low-fat product may not be that
different in calories" than regular products, says Connie Crawley,
nutrition and health specialist in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences
at the University of Georgia. "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
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," says Jule Anne Henstenberg, RD, director of the
Nutrition Program at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
"Foods with a lot of sugar taste good, so we eat can eat too much of
them," she says. "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."