Hold the sugar

BREAKING NEWS: Sugar is bad for us. Apparently it was never made clear to us that sugar provides empty calories, makes kids hyperactive, causes diabetes, rots our teeth and might even be addictive. At least that is what we are now being told. It seems to me that as a kid in the 50s, I was warned about consuming too much sugar. Sugar has been bad for us for a long time.


On the left 6 teaspoons of table sugar. On the right 1 cup of table sugar (48 teaspoons).

New guidelines are telling us that women need to limit consumption of added sugar to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) a day. Men are permitted up to 9 teaspoons a day. Six teaspoons is a very small amount of sugar and a challenge for most of us Americans to meet. If we take the warning seriously, it means a major change in our daily diets. The prescription for us from the food pundits is to AVOID PROCESSED FOOD, but is it really that easy? I don’t think so. Big Food (and designers of recipes for healthy desserts) are very skilled at disguising sugars in their ingredient lists. Anytime we see an ingredient on a processed-food label or a recipe that ends in sugar, syrup, crystals or the syllable ‘ose’, it probably is some form of sugar. I’ll talk about different forms of sugar in a future post. I find the easiest way to find out how much sugar is in a packaged food is to look at the Nutrition Facts rather than the ingredient statement. Every processed food must let us know how much sugar is present. Most recipes in books and available via the internet do not provide equivalent nutritional information. The assumption that homemade sweets contain less added sugar than processed ones is just not valid. For example, I went on the internet and pulled up the first healthy cupcake recipe I found (8 teaspoons of sugar, 7 of them added sugars).

The two easiest ways to eliminate added sugars in processed and homemade foods are the use of artificial sweeteners and adding fruits or their products. I personally do not have trouble with artificial sweeteners, but the food pundits consider them to be unclean and thus unacceptable. Fruits are naturally endowed with sugar, particularly tropical fruits like mango and banana. Dried fruits such as dates, raisins and prunes are also potent sources of sugar. Applesauce, fruit juice and other processed fruit products may sound like an acceptable alternative, but they are likely to have added sugars as well.  The nutritional reason fruit ingredients are preferred over added sugars is that they contain fiber, minerals and vitamins. I question whether the benefits of the accompanying vitamins and minerals and fiber in these fruit-based ingredients really compensate for the presence of sugar in a cake, cookie, ice cream, pastry, pie or other sweet treat. By the way, maple syrup and honey are also added sugar. They both have vitamins and minerals, but one must consume a whole lot of sugar to get enough extra nutrients to be beneficial.

My knock is not on people who try to design healthy sweets. I am just trying to point out how hard it is to meet the 6-teaspoon-a-day guidelines. Some items with regard to the amount of added sugar include:

1 Domino’s single-serve sugar packet
1     teaspoon
1 tablespoon of table sugar
3     teaspoons
1 serving of Kellogg’s Rice Krispy treats
4    teaspoons
1 package of 2 Reese’s peanut butter cups
5     teaspoons
1 Builder’s 20 gram protein bar
5     teaspoons
1 apple cupcake with frosting (above)
7     teaspoons
Panera Bread Bear Claw
7     teaspoons
1 12-ounce sugared soda
10   teaspoons
Smoothie King 20-oz. High Protein Chocolate Smoothie
11   teaspoons
Starbuck’s Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte
12   teaspoons
1 cup of table sugar
48   teaspoons

One precaution is that the above list is only valid for a serving. For those of us consuming two servings, all bets are off. Also, if I eat two Reese’s peanut butter cups in the morning I am limited to only one more tablespoon the rest of the day to meet a six-teaspoon-a-day guideline.  Basically, this limit cuts us back to one sweet a day including any sugar added to coffee in the morning (I drink mine black). Added sugars count whether they are added by Big Food to a processed product, at a restaurant by the cook or prepared in the home. Sure there are lots of tempting processed foods out there that have way too much sugar that we should only eat occasionally, but let’s not kid ourselves that we can have unlimited restaurant-prepared or homemade sweets without worry. And, for anyone craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte right now, do your best to consume only half of it today and save the rest for tomorrow!

Next week: a book review of Devoured by Sophie Egan

One thought on “Hold the sugar

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