Understanding Added Sugars and How to Spot Them

Posted at 7:17 AM on Aug 8, 2023

Added Sugars

Sugar is sugar, right? Definitely not. There is a huge difference between natural sugars found in foods like fruits and whole grains versus artificially sweetened candies and drinks. In discussing the added sugars it’s also essential to learn more about the glycemic index (GI), which is a tool to understand how different foods affect blood sugar levels.

Added Sugars: What Are They?

Added sugars refer to any sugars or sweeteners that are added to food products during processing or preparation. These can include sucrose (table sugar), artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin), high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave syrup, and more. Unlike naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and dairy products, added sugars provide little to no nutritional value beyond calories. Added sugars are now found everywhere, even in foods that do not taste sweet like pre-packaged meals.

How to Spot Added Sugars

Like mentioned above, added sugars are everywhere. The best way to know how much added sugar is in a food is to look at the nutritional label. You will notice that all foods with a nutrition label now show sugar and added sugars. No ingredient label? No problem! Fruits and vegetables do not contain an ingredient label as there are no added ingredients and therefore no added sugars.

Recommendation: Aim to eat less than 25 grams of added sugar per day.

Nutrition Facts Label

The Worst Foods for Added Sugars

  • Sugary beverages like sport drinks, sodas, juices, etc.
  • Candies and sweet treats
  • Breakfast cereals and bars
  • Desserts and pastries
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Sauces like, ketchup, barbecue and teriyaki sauces, salad dressings, etc.
  • Fruit snacks (the name can be deceptive with no real fruit at all!)

The Impact of Added Sugars on Health

Excessive consumption of added sugars has been linked to various health concerns:

  • Weight Gain and Obesity: Foods high in added sugars tend to be energy-dense and low in nutrients. Overconsumption of these sugary foods can lead to an increased calorie intake, contributing to weight gain and obesity.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: High intake of added sugars has been associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Dental Health: Consuming sugary foods and beverages promotes tooth decay and cavities, especially when proper oral hygiene is lacking.
  • Cardiovascular Health: A diet high in added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.
  • Inflammation: Excessive sugar consumption may lead to chronic inflammation, which is a risk factor for various diseases.

In understanding the impact that added sugars may have on the body, it is important to understand what is happening inside your body when you consume sugars. This means understanding the Glycemic Index.

The Glycemic Index (GI): Understanding Blood Sugar Response

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to measure how quickly and how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels when compared to some standard, often compared to pure glucose or white bread. Foods with a high GI are rapidly digested and cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, while those with a low GI are digested more slowly, resulting in a slower and more controlled rise in blood sugar.

The GI scale is divided into three categories:

  • Low GI (55 or less): These foods are digested and absorbed slowly, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels. Examples include most non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and some whole grains.
  • Moderate GI (56-69): Foods in this category have a moderate impact on blood sugar levels. Examples include certain fruits, whole wheat products, and basmati rice.
  • High GI (70 or more): These foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. Examples include white bread, sugary cereals, and most processed snacks and desserts.

Northwest Family Clinics - Added Sugars

Importance of Understanding the Glycemic Index

The GI can be a useful tool for everyone, but specifically those with diabetes or seeking to manage their blood sugar levels or individuals struggling with their weight. Foods with a lower GI are generally preferred for better glycemic control. Combining carbohydrates with proteins, fats, and fiber can also help slow down the digestion and absorption of sugars, reducing the overall impact on blood sugar levels.  Foods with a high GI give the body a lot of usable energy in a short time which often cannot be used, so the body stores the extra unused energy as fat, leading to weight gain.

Talk to Your Doctor

Added sugars are hard to avoid as they are in so many foods we eat. It is essential for us to all be more mindful of how much added sugar we are ingesting and always aim to opt for whole, minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods whenever possible.

Looking to learn more about healthy eating and the Glycemic Index? We can help! Learn more about our Weight Loss & Nutritional Counseling services.