When you look at the Nutrition Facts panel on a food product, it tells you how many grams of sugar are in that food. However, that number includes the natural sugars that exist in milk and whole fruit so it's difficult to decipher how much, if any, sugar has been added. According to the USDA, the average American consumes 74 pounds of sugar per year, or 23 teaspoons a day. That adds up to 460 calories daily of nothing but sugar.
Good news: In February 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a comprehensive table that gives the added sugar count of more than 2,000 foods. The new table can help you find surprising sources of added sugar, such as yogurt, salad dressings, and even peanut butter. All of the following are different terms for added sugar: sucrose, brown sugar, molasses, beet sugar, honey, cane juice, turbinado, maple syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltose, barley malt, and fruit juice concentrate. Once you know, you can look for brands that don't have it. When a product label says "no sugar added," it most often means that a sugar substitute has been added. Keep in mind that "no sugar added" is not the same as "sugar free."
Although sugar is sugar once it hits your bloodstream, ensuring that the vast majority of those sweet calories are accompanied by other, beneficial nutrients -- like the fiber and phytonutrients in fruit or the beneficial fats and calcium in dairy products -- is one of the best things you can do for your body.
1 - USDA Database for the Added Sugars Content of Selected Foods, Release 1. http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/docs.htm?docid=12107 (accessed February 3, 2010).
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