Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: How much added sugar is in your diet?

Too much added sugar can be linked to weight gain, heart disease and several other chronic health conditions.

“I think I saw him running down the highway!” I said about our friends’ son.

I was kidding, of course. 

His mom and dad talked about how much frosted cake, treats from a doughnut wall, cups of ice cream and handfuls of candy he had eaten at various parties in the past couple days.

His parents were expecting him to be sick any minute.

Why do so many people have a “sweet tooth”? Food historians believe it goes way back in time. In our distant past, sweet foods in nature were likely to be safe, while bitter foods were poisonous. Our long-ago ancestors probably watched animals eat food. If the animals did not die, the food probably was safe to eat.

Sugar plays many roles besides adding the sweet flavor that so many of us enjoy. In baked goods, sugar provides texture and structure. In yeast breads, added sugar provides food for the yeast, so the yeast can produce carbon dioxide and cause the bread to rise.

Sugar also helps with the development of color on the outside of cookies and breads. In jelly and jam making, sugar helps with the formation of the gel structure. Sugar has a preservative effect. In the creation of wine and other spirits, natural and added sugars play a role in fermentation, and the sugar is converted to alcohol.

Unfortunately, most of us consume too many sweeteners of all types. As you probably have noticed, “added sugar” now is required on food labels. Added sugars are sweeteners not present naturally in the food.

“Total sugars” includes natural sugars such as lactose in milk, fructose in fruit juice, plus added sugar such as corn syrup.

One teaspoon of sugar weighs 4 grams. In other words, if you consume a beverage with 40 grams of “added sugar” you are having 10 teaspoons of sugar from that beverage.

Sometimes sugar is somewhat hidden in products. Yogurt, pasta sauces, granola bars, salad dressings and instant oatmeal are just a few products that are sweetened by corn syrup or other types of added sweeteners.

How much added sugar do we need in our diet? Technically, sweeteners provide flavor and other attributes to food products, but not vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. We are advised to practice moderation when we consume sweetened foods.

In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar daily. Women are advised to consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugars daily.

Too much added sugar can be linked to weight gain, heart disease and several other chronic health conditions. Desserts, sweet snacks and soft drinks are among the largest contributors of added sugar. What can you do to be “moderate” in your consumption of sweet treats?

  • Have a smaller portion of your favorite treat, such as a snack-sized candy bar instead of a full-size one.
  • Trim your intake of sweetened beverages. If you drink sweetened soda or other beverages, switch to water or beverages without added sugar. Try making your own “flavor-infused water” with added fruit such as oranges or lemons. If you can’t break the soda habit, look for the small cans available in some stores or pour a smaller portion from a resealable bottle.
  • Try reducing the sugar in recipes. See the NDSU Extension publication “Now Serving: Recipe Makeovers” (http://tinyurl.com/recipemakeovers) for more information about modifying recipes. For example, you can reduce sugar by one-fourth to one-third in many recipes.
  • If you want a naturally sweet beverage, opt for 100% fruit juice instead of sweetened beverages. However, keep in mind that whole fruit is more nutritious than fruit juice.
  • Use condiments such as ketchup and salad dressing sparingly.
  • Choose canned fruits packed in water or fruit juice instead of syrup.
  • If you make cookies or bars, freeze them and take out smaller amounts at a time.
  • See “3 Tips to a Healthier Celebration” (ndsu.ag/healthier) from NDSU Extension for more tips.

This do-it-yourself recipe can help you trim the added sugars in your beverages and stay well-hydrated throughout the year.

Infused Water

  • Choose a fruit, vegetable or herb (or a creative combination). These can include lemon, lime or orange slices, cucumbers, fresh or frozen strawberries or blueberries, mint leaves, basil leaves, or others.
  • If you are using fresh fruits, vegetables or herbs, be sure to rinse them carefully under cool, running water. When using citrus fruits, slice them thinly. Cut strawberries in half and leave other berries whole.
  • Fill a pitcher with cold water and ice. Place the pitcher in the refrigerator and allow to stand a few hours. Citrus fruits infuse flavors quickly, while berries need a few hours.
  • Serve flavor-infused water instead of soft drinks or sweetened beverages. You can refill the pitcher with water at least one more time. Keep refrigerated and enjoy.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – May 30, 2024

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7006, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu

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