A ‘sweet tooth’ is present in humans from birth. We don’t really know why this is. Sweet foods are not essential to your health. Often empty calories from sweet foods replace the nutritious ones you need.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 52 g of added sugar per day for a 2,000 calorie diet, but they would prefer 26 g per day! (The FDA is revamping nutrition labels to show added sugars to help you gauge the food’s healthiness.) In contrast, the average American consumes 125 lbs. of sweeteners in a year , mostly from table sugar and corn syrup. This is about ½ Cup a day of sweeteners! Much more than the recommendations.
To understand why, we need to realize that sugar is hidden in many foods. Here are some examples:
- 1 Tablespoon of ketchup can have 4g of sugar.
- A frozen pizza may have up to 26g of sugar!
- A can of Campbell’s tomato soup has 30g sugar.
- One blueberry muffin has 22g of sugar.
- A 5.7 oz. serving of orange chicken has 22g sugar (mostly in the sugary sauce used to enhance orange flavor).
- One cup of pasta sauce can have 20 g sugar (sugar is used to offset the acidity of tomatoes).
- Ten thin mints candies contain 26 g sugar.
- A cup of coleslaw has 23g sugar (a sugary dressing masks the cabbage flavor).
So as you can see, sugar can be found in many foods, even in some we wouldn’t think there would be sugar in.
But foods aren’t the only culprit. At least 40% of “added sugar” intake comes from what you drink. High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sucrose are added to many beverages.
So where do all these sugars in your diet come from? Sweeteners come in many forms:
- White Sugar or Raw Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Confectioner’s Sugar
- Powdered Sugar
- Corn Sweeteners
- Corn Syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Invert Sugar
- Maltose or Malt Sugar
- Maple Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Turbinado Sugar
Caloric sweeteners are sucrose, table sugar, and corn syrup. These are the most commonly used ones in foods. Fructose is a caloric sweetener found in most fruits. Lactose is a caloric sweetener naturally occurring in milk. Note: -ose is the ending found on most sweetener/sugar products on labels and something you can look for in the ingredient list to see if sugars are added.
Non-caloric sweeteners can also be added to foods. Non-caloric sweeteners are ones like aspartame, saccharin, equal, splenda , etc. and can also be found in the pink, blue, yellow etc. packets. Most experts agree these should be used in moderation if at all and recommend you change sweeteners often to avoid health effects of long term use. What are some of these sweetners and their potential health risks?
Aspartame (NutraSweet) is 180-220 times sweeter than sugar. Recommendations are no more than 18 packets (or 3 diet sodas) per day for a 130 lb. person. Note that it does contain phenylalanine so should not be used by those individuals with the inherited disease PKU.
Saccharin is the first man-made sugar substitute and is 300-400 times sweeter than sugar. It has been shown to cause urinary bladder cancer in animals but the dose rate would equal 850 cans of diet soft drinks per day for a human.
Cyclamate is approximately 30 times sweeter than sugar, but in the early 1970s studies showed an increased risk of bladder cancer in animals, especially if consumed with saccharin so cyclamates were banned in the US.
Sugar alcohols (mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol) have just as many calories as table sugar, they just burn more slowly. They are often recommended by the dental profession because they do not appear to cause tooth decay. But, be aware, they can have a laxative effect if used frequently.
Xylitol may contribute to reduction of biofilm and lactic acid which is why it is often used in sugar-free gums and candies.
Since each exposure to sugar activates the bacteria in your mouth for about 20 minutes, it is best to drink sugar sweetened beverages with meals only and to drink them within a 15 minute time frame. Many experts say it is best to limit to once a day for 12 oz. total and only have 6 oz. coming from 100% fruit juice. Using a straw will help keep the sugar away from your teeth. In fact, eating most sugary foods with meals helps to decrease the risk of tooth decay because saliva production increases during your meal and rinses away food particles.
Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with unsweetened or artificially sweetened beverages will also help decrease your risk of dental decay. (Though most experts recommend limiting the artificial sweeteners in your diet.)
In our modern day, it is difficult to avoid sugar. If you struggle with dental decay, it is probably worth looking into reducing the amount of sugar you eat on a daily basis. (I do know of one person who tried chewing grape bubble gum—not the sugar-free variety, but the sugared one—to try to stop smoking. This person had a moderate to high decay rate before making that change and the dental decay rate doubled once the gum chewing began! The gum was the only life-style difference that we could trace to this decay-rate change. Not everyone will have this drastic a change, but it does serve to illustrate what can happen.)
*Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the counsel of your health care professionals.