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Hidden Sweeteners Conceal a Bitter Truth

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As people got older, sugar sources switched. Cakes and cookies were popular with women over age 55 (soft drinks dropped to No. 2 for them). Older men's interest took a similar turn. After age 65, sweetened milk products like chocolate drinks were the beverages of choice for both genders.

Federal dietary guidelines advise that we consume sugars in moderation, says Guthrie. "But people are consuming more than we consider moderate."

Read food labels, she advises. "The label contains total sugars information. Total sugars can be both naturally occurring sugars as well as those added in processing. Like fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, it would have naturally occurring sugars from fruit but would also have added sweeteners."

Breakfast cereals turned out to be less of a problem than anticipated, Guthrie says. "Less than 5% of total intake of added sweeteners is coming from cereals. They're not really as bad as people think. They are highly fortified, good sources of nutrients, and some can also be good sources of fiber."

Look at your total diet first when cutting back on sweeteners, says Guthrie. "We're not saying you have to rule any food out. If you have candy or cookies or birthday cake and you are a normal, healthy person, this is not a problem. You have to look at in the context of your total diet."

Ronald Krauss, MD, nutrition researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and chairman of the nutrition committee for the American Health Association, tells WebMD, "The study put numbers behind what we've felt was true ... sugar intake does constitute a significant portion of calories, especially in younger age groups."

Use moderation but also choose foods that have high nutrient value, says Krauss.

Obesity is "an epidemic" in this country and it's particularly affecting children, Krauss says. "The incidence of childhood obesity is skyrocketing, as is the incidence of diabetes."

While diabetes used to be almost unheard of in children, it is now becoming a "fairly significant issue," says Krauss. "We're now seeing adult-onset diabetes appearing in younger individuals, teen-agers and younger, in numbers that have never been reported in the past. We feel it's related not just to eating habits but to a tendency to eat more than they're burning up. Certainly the consumption of calories in the form of foods that this survey has identified is a major source of calories ... wasted calories that provide nothing but weight-building fat and no other nutrients."

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