Nutrition label changes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is making it easier for consumers to read nutrition labels and make healthier food choices. The FDA is requiring food and beverage companies to provide additional information on nutrition labels so consumers are aware of the amount of added sugars they contain.
Added sugars, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are sugars that are added during processing or packaging of the item. Common examples include brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt sugar, molasses, cane sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, sugar trehalose and sucrose. Sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol) are organic compounds derived from sugar, either naturally or as part of the industrial process and are not considered added sugars.
Beyond checking the nutrition facts panel, you can also read the ingredients list to learn which added sugar was used as a sweetener. The closer to the beginning the ingredient appears on the list, the more of that ingredient by weight is in the food or beverage item.
Are all added sugars alike?
Some people believe that sugars such as maple syrup or honey are healthier alternatives for sweeteners. However, research consistently shows that the type of added sugar is irrelevant to health effects.
Researchers studied the effects of chronic consumption of three sweeteners — honey, table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup — on health. They studied two groups, people with normal glucose levels and people with higher than normal glucose levels, but who were not diabetic. Researchers took into account their blood sugar and insulin levels, lipids, body weight, blood pressure and inflammatory markers that are associated with diseases like cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions. They found triglyceride concentrations (a type of fat circulating in the bloodstream) increased significantly for all study participants after consuming each sugar in excess, over the course of two weeks.
After you eat, the body converts the calories it does not need for energy into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells. High triglyceride levels increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. They can also lead to pancreatitis, a severe inflammation of the pancreas that can be deadly.
Are fruits a good alternative?
While fruits provide dietary fiber, vitamin C and potassium, using fruits or fruit juice to sweeten foods and beverages is not necessarily a better choice than other sweeteners. According to the FDA, fruit juices are a highly concentrated source of sugar and are increasingly added to foods for sweetening purposes. The FDA considers fruits and fruit juices added sugars when their purpose is to sweeten the food or beverage.
While we generally do not eat enough fruit (as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans), adding fruits into your diet for the purpose of sweetening other foods is probably not the answer. It is recommended to get the majority of your fruit servings from whole fruits.
What is a healthy amount of sugar per day?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, less than 10 percent of total daily calories should come from added sugars. If you were to eat a 2,000 calorie per day diet, less than 200 of those calories should come from added sugar. This translates to a maximum of 50 grams of added sugar per day or less than 16 grams of sugar per meal, including beverages. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods with less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving and limit yourself to one sugar-containing food or beverage per meal.
- Ditch sugary drinks like soda, sweet teas, sweetened coffee and sports drinks, and drink no more than 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice per day.
- Drink more water, fruit or herb-infused waters and unsweetened teas or flavored waters with less than 10 calories per serving.
- Choose foods with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
- Limit sweets to a maximum of one small serving per day.
- Keep fruits as close to whole as possible to preserve dietary fiber.
You do not have to cut out added sugars in your eating pattern altogether. Instead, be mindful of your food choices and the amount of added sugar you are eating and drinking over the course of a day or week.
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