Hey Sugar – are you Public Enemy No. 1?

Our dietitians explain good sugar versus bad sugar

sugar in processed foodsIs sugar really public enemy number 1? The simple answer is no. But sometime sugar can be bad for us. There are actually “good” sugars and “bad” sugars.

Good sugars are natural sugars (also called complex carbohydrates). They are found in fruits and whole grains. These types of foods not only have sugar, they also have anti-disease nutrients that should be included in a healthy diet.

“Bad” sugar — the sugar we need to be careful of — is the sugar that gets added in cooking and pre-made/packaged foods. And it’s not just in cakes, cookies and soft drinks. Added sugars are also found in tomato sauce, ketchup, salad dressings, cereals, crackers and breads.

What’s the big deal with added sugar?

According to the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, added sugar intake is strongly tied to:

  • increased body weight
  • type 2 diabetes
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased chances of stroke
  • heart disease
  • dental cavities

Specifically, more than 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per day increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%.

Increased body weight is also strongly associated with a number of cancers. So if your focus in 2016 is on improving your health, then getting rid of extra sugar should be on your list of resolutions.

How do I know if a food has added sugar?

It is not as simple as checking the label for sugar in the ingredients list. Food companies have found many ways to disguise added sugars:

  • Corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Maltodextrin, an artificial sugar
  • Words that end in –ose, such as dextrose, sucrose or maltose

How much added sugar is too much?

A number of health organizations have set guidelines for added sugar. According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories per day from added sugar (about 6 teaspoons). Men should have no more than 150 calories or 9 teaspoons. Both the World Health Organization and Healthy People 2020 say no more than 10% total energy intake should come from added sugar, which is less than the current American average of 268 calories/day.

What are some simple steps to reduce added sugar?

  • Look for ingredient lists that have sugar, or the other sugar sources listed above, towards the end of the ingredient list and no more than one or two added sugars listed.
  • Buy fresh fruit or fruit packaged in its own juice, not syrup.
  • Try reducing the sugar in recipes by 1/4 to 1/3 and experiment with sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice.
  • Look for the label “No Sugar Added” or “Without Added Sugar” to know that no sugar or sugar-containing ingredients were added in processing.
  • Replace sugary beverages such as soda, sports drinks and juice (even 100% fruit juice) with water or other no- or low-calorie beverages.
  • Avoid sweetened yogurt and cereals. Try adding fresh or dried fruit instead to add natural sweetness.

Being more aware of the added sugar in your diet — and taking it out — will help you keep to that goal of 268 calories a day! Then, you can sometimes have your favorite dessert without guilt.

Take the next step:

U-M CCC dietitians NEWRegistered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.