Sodas, candy bars, and other sweets are the biggest offenders when it comes to sugary foods. But many things you'd never suspect — from pasta sauces to salad dressings to fruit smoothies — can contain as much or more sugar than these well-known treats.
Rachel K. Johnson, a nationally known dietary specialist and vice chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, tells Newsmax Health most Americans consume twice as much sugar as they should every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One reason: Hidden sugars in many processed and prepared foods that can boost your blood-sugar levels, which can contribute to a host of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
"Americans are consuming much more sugar than is recommended," notes Johnson, who is also an advisor EatingWell Magazine and a member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Science Board.
"A recent report from CDC found American men consumed an average of [335 calories per day] of their calories from added sugars compared to [239 calories] among women," adds Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. "The [AHA] recommends that most American men should consume no more than 150 calories or nine teaspoons/day of added sugars. For American women, the recommendation is no more than 100 calories or six teaspoons/day."
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A key problem, she explains, is that many processed foods don't list "sugar" on the ingredients label, but instead refer to sweeteners by their chemical names -- such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, and maltose.
The take-home message?
"Because added sugars aren't listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel you need to become a savvy reader of ingredient lists," Johnson says. "Added sugars are ubiquitous in many processed foods. Consumers can read the ingredient lists to locate added sugars. Anything ending with the letters 'ose' is usually a sugar."
To help consumers identify food products that contain hidden sugar, Johnson has come up with a list of five otherwise healthy foods that can have high sugar levels.
Tomato-based pasta sauces are generally healthy, with one cup counting as a single vegetable serving. Tomatoes are also packed with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant linked to a lower risk of prostate and breast cancer. But a single serving of processed tomato sauce can contain nearly as much added sugar as a candy bar, with one leading brand delivering as much as 30 grams of sugar (almost eight teaspoons) per cup.
What you can do: Only buy sauces where any type of sugar (corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc.) is listed near the end of the ingredients.
Fat-free salad dressings might seem like a healthier choice than full-fat products, but they are often loaded with salt and sugar — often from honey and concentrated fruit juices — to compensate for the loss of flavor that results from reducing the fat content. Some contain as much as 4 grams of sugar (about a teaspoon) per tablespoon of dressing.
What you can do: Choose dressings with very little added sugar listed and those made with heart-healthy canola or olive oil as the top ingredient, and use them sparingly.
These liquid meals can be a great way to increase your intake of healthy fruits, lean protein, and dairy products, but beware: Many commercially prepared drinks of this kind contain nearly as much sugar as a standard soda — up to 38 grams of sugar (more than nine teaspoons) in a single bottle.
What you can do: Make your own smoothies with skim milk, plain nonfat yogurt, and fresh fruit of your choice, with just a dab of maple syrup or honey for sweetness.
Adding barbecue sauce to grilled foods can kick up the flavor, but in some products — particularly those made with molasses or high-fructose corn syrup — sugars can account for as much as 80 percent of the calories, containing as much as three teaspoons of sugar in only 2 tablespoons of sauce.
Multi-grain cereals, crackers
Compared with foods made with processed white flour, multi-grain crackers and cereals are a healthier low-fat option and a rich source of whole grains and fiber. But some multi-grain products are packed with sugar, canceling out the health benefits they offer. It's best to avoid those products where sugar is listed among the first three ingredients, which can pack as much as more than a teaspoon of sugar in every single serving.
What you can do: Choose cereals with no added sugars, such as plain shredded wheat, and add sweeteners yourself. Buy crackers that contain only whole-grain wheat, oil, and salt, such as Triscuits and Kashi Original Whole Grain Crackers.
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