The Unseen Calorie Source: Hidden Sugars

Losing weight and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle requires determination and keeping a close watch on your calorie intake. Most dieters and weight-watchers switch to healthier diet options, paying close attention to the food labels on products and opting for those which have the least sugar content. Foods with marketing labels like “whole-grain”, “fat-free”, or “sugar-free” are walking off the shelves with remarkable speed. However, despite choosing these “healthier” options, people find that their weights aren’t exactly reflecting the change in diet.

Defining Hidden Sugars

This is because they failed to account for the “added sugar” or “hidden sugar” content in these foods. So, what exactly is added sugar? The USDA and FDA define them as sugars that don’t naturally occur in foods, but are artificially added in during processing. These include sugars like brown sugar, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, lactose, invert sugar and maltose. The USDA has defined a complete list here.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women (about 6 teaspoons) and 36 grams for men (about 9 teaspoons). So, checking the sugar content on the Nutrient Facts Label will tell you both the total sugar content and how much of that content is due to added sugars. The label also specifies the % Daily Value (DV) which indicates how much of the total calorie intake the added sugar accounts for.

Before 2016, the FDA did not require a mandatory inclusion of added sugar content on their Nutrient Facts label. This allowed some food manufacturers and producers to get around the recommended sugar limit by only specifying the added sugars in the ingredient list, masquerading under their various names (see list linked above). This meant that consumers were taking in a hidden sugar calorie count that exceeded the AHA’s recommended intake.

Therefore, you should also scan the ingredients list for any of the sugars specified in the list linked above, and try to cut down on any foods that list an added sugar content which is higher than the recommended amount.

Watch “Healthy” Foods too

These 5 popular foods may actually be packing quite a calorie punch of hidden sugars:

Granola Bars: These are considered super healthy, but a single granola bar can contain 8-12 grams of added sugars. Check the label for ingredients like brown sugar, honey, dextrose or fructose. Instead, reach for a handful of nuts or eat about 1/3 cup of granola.

Yogurt: Although yogurt comes packed with healthy nutrients like calcium and protein, it can ramp up your sugar intake by at least 30 grams per serving, especially if flavored. Instead, switch to plain Greek yogurt, mixed with a ½ teaspoon of honey.

Fruit Juice: Packaged juice is usually made from fruit concentrates which actually contain more sugar than their fresh counterparts. The concentration process tends to remove the natural taste from the fruits, and therefore added sugars are used to enhance the taste. They can have between 20 to 30 grams of sugar per serving. Instead, switch to freshly squeezed juice or homemade smoothies.

Oatmeal: Instant oatmeal, especially fruit-flavored oatmeal, can pack up to 10 to 15 grams of sugar per packet. Instead, opt for plain oatmeal topped with apple slices or strawberries to bring the sugar intake down to about 5 to 6 grams.

Energy Drinks: Energy drinks can pack up to 25 grams per 8-ounce serving. Try gulping down cool water or fresh fruit juices which contain natural sugars and can still give you that required energy boost.

In summary, always check the nutrient label and ingredient list. Stay informed on what added or hidden sugars are used in processed and packaged foods and avoid them even if they claim to be healthy options.

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