Answering questions about added sugars

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From Metro Creative Services

Thanks to the internet, the average consumer now has access to more information than ever before. In the days before the internet, trust factored heavily into the consumer-business relationship. Though trust still has a place in that relationship, consumers can now access product reviews on seemingly anything, removing much of the risk associated with buying a product or service.

However, many consumers are not making the most of that access, particularly when it comes to buying food.

When buying food, individuals can rely on product labels to determine nutritional value. A quick glance at food labels reveals the amounts of various ingredients, including sodium and fiber, that are present in a given product. Customers may know to check for sodium content, but added sugars have long slipped under the radar. That’s unfortunate, as high amounts of added sugars pose a significant threat to consumers’ overall health.

What are added sugars?

The Mayo Clinic notes that added sugars are the syrups and sugars that are added to foods during processing.

What distinguishes sugar from added sugars?
Many foods, including fruits and vegetables, naturally contain sugar, but there’s a difference between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars, like those found in fruits and vegetables, contain calories and nutrients, while added sugars contain all the calories without the nutritional value.

So why is sugar added to foods and beverages?
Manufacturers add sugars for many reasons. According to the Mayo Clinic, added sugars can provide additional flavor, serve as a preservative or a bulking agent, and balance the acidity of certain foods, such as those that contain vinegar and tomatoes.

If added sugars are so commonplace, how harmful can they be?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that overconsumption of added sugars can contribute to an assortment of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That’s especially troubling when considering just how much added sugars the average person consumes.

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update their Dietary Guidelines for Americans at least once every five years. In 2020, those guidelines recommended that individuals over the age of two limit their added sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of their calories per day, and that children two and under consume no added sugars. For individuals two and older, that translates to no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugars each day.

The American Heart Association is even more cautious, urging women to consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day while recommending that men limit their intake to nine or fewer teaspoons per day. Unfortunately, data from the USDA released in 2020 indicates that the average male between the ages of two and 19 consumed 18 teaspoons per day, while the average female in that age group consumed 15 teaspoons per day (adults age 20 and over consumed roughly the same amount of added sugars each day as young people).

What can consumers do to avoid overconsumption of added sugars?
The easiest thing to do to limit added sugar intake is to read product labels and avoid products with especially high amounts of added sugars. Such products may include beverages like fruit juice, soda or sports drinks; certain breakfast cereals; and baked goods and desserts like cookies, pie and ice cream.

Added sugars pose a significant threat to public health. But informed consumers can do much to eliminate this threat entirely.

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