Something dangerous is happening in the US, and this is causing the beginning of a health epidemic. What’s this? It’s the rate at which Americans consume sugar on a daily basis. Surveys have shown that the average American takes way more sugar than they should on a daily basis –approximately 22 teaspoonful more sugars than they need every day.
However, it’s not as if they are intentionally taking this much sugar, seeing as a considerable amount of these sugars are in the form of foods that have so much sugar content.
These foods are often referred to as hidden sources of sugars. Interestingly, some of these foods are even considered healthy and beneficial to your health. To help you understand why this is dangerous, the average American adult male and woman shouldn’t take more than 9 and 6 teaspoons of sugar daily respectively. That’s 150 calories and 100 calories respectively for both sexes. In fact, relevant health authorities have gone on to show just how much damage these added sugars can do to you.
Read this for more insight. The summary of that article however, is that these added sugars increase your risk of being killed by cardiovascular disease and its associated conditions.
To help you understand what added sugars are, they are simply “sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they’re processed or prepared”, says the American Heart Association website. Please note that these sugars aren’t inclusive of those found in fruits and milk.
This is an important thing to take note of, particularly with the myriad of diets and exercise regimens recommended by various health experts to help ward off cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
All these can be confusing to the layman, not to mention the fact that not many medical experts agree on a particular diet or regimen that will help you prevent those conditions.
However, there’s one thing all health experts agree on unequivocally: it’s the fact that excess sugar intake is bad for your health and you need to reduce its intake to within reasonable levels. Unfortunately, excess sugar intake is on the up and up in the US, Europe and other developed nations where the majority of the foods consumed are either processed or refined.
This, combined with the cheaper costs of processed foods compared to organic and natural foods makes it very easy for the average individual to eat more sugars than they ought to every day.
Multiple studies and research have shown that excess sugar intake, whether in the form of hidden or added sugars, plays a contributory role in the development of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, yeast infection as well a weakened immune system.
Now that you know all these, are you ready to get rid of excess sugars? This is important because getting rid of the huge quantities of sugar from your diet has incredible health benefits and often requires significant commitment.
This guide is designed to help you identify all hidden food and added sugar sources so that you can eliminate them from your daily food consumption and replace them with healthier options that are good for you.
Major Sources of Hidden Sugars that You Didn’t Know About
Since most people don’t know where all these hidden sugars are, we went to find out for you and have condensed the list to the following sugar sources. If you take any of these frequently, then you should know that you’re unwittingly adding to your sugar consumption and essentially hurting your health:
- Energy, sports and soft drinks. So, remember this when next you want to pound that Red Bull or chug down that soda.
- Sweets, candies, lollipops and sweetened chewing gums. While this may not be an adult thing, children take enough of these on daily basis to put them on a fast track to diabetes and obesity.
- Snacking on junk foods during the day.
- Sugar heavy desserts such as pies, cakes, gingerbread, pudding, ice cream, dumplings, brownies, doughnuts and so on.
- Fruit juice, sweet teas, low fat yoghurt, and agave nectar.
Now these are all pretty obvious culprits and foods you can easily suspect. Most people can easily avoid these because they are “right in your face”. The real danger is with those foods that are thought of as healthy but are actually dangerous. For instance the agave nectar mentioned above. This is thought to be really healthy, when it has even higher fructose percentage than regular table sugar and corn syrup.
Some of the foods we’ll be outlining next, are those typically considered as very healthy seeing as some of them are organic and natural, and often only available in specialty shops and farmer’s market that only sell 100 percent natural foods. However, just because foods are natural doesn’t mean that they aren’t loaded with hidden sugar. Let’s examine some of these real quick:
- Refined, processed or whole grain cereals are a staple in every American home. In fact, the average American family takes cereals 4-6 times weekly. This makes sense because it’s fast to make, light and tasty. Unfortunately, they are also a powerhouse for hidden sugars.
- Most sweet or wheat breads often have sugar as part of their ingredients. Most people don’t think of this and often assume the sugar quantity is small particularly when the bread just tastes mildly sweet.
- Power and energy bars tend to have high amounts of sugar, alongside protein and nutrients.
- Sweetened teas and coffees (mocha and latte in particular)
- Pancakes, waffles, and white flour based snacks/foods
- Dairy products like buttermilk and sweetened yogurts
- Condiments for sauces and eating like ketchup, and tomato sauce.
- Cuisines and meals at restaurants
- Molasses, maltose, honey, maple syrup, and malt syrup
Now, we outlined these as proven sources of added or hidden sugar. We didn’t say they were bad sugars. You need to understand this clearly as we have seen that many people tend to misunderstand this. These sugar sources are not necessarily harmful. When they become harmful is when courtesy of taking them, you exceed your daily sugar intake.
Most people would look at the list above and assume we’re saying they should cut these out from their diets completely. And for many, that can be off-putting. We don’t want you to build any resistance to minimizing your sugar intakes. We are only interested in you understanding what your sugar options are, and identifying possible sources of extra sugars that you aren’t even aware of.
Now that you know this, let’s talk about fructose. This is the simple sugar that’s commonly found in everything from sweet fruits like apples and pineapples to vegetables like your spinach.
While fructose is a sugar, it is broken down differently by the body when taken in excessive amounts. In its pure, undiluted form –usually the ones you get from fruits- it doesn’t do you any harm. If anything, it has been known to help the body build up its defences and strengthen its immune system so that the body doesn’t fall sick.
It does this by playing a critical role in boosting your immune system, eliminating free radicals, lowering oxidative stress, improving your health and protecting your body against illnesses and conditions typically caused by taking more added sugars in all forms than is required for the day.
Where the major issue lies however, is in the eating of many processed foods that are rich in these hidden sugars. The reasons why we advocate the ingestion of more fruits than processed foods as the source of your daily sugars is that refined foods tend to always have too much sugar than what your body needs.
So, when you eat these foods, which are often lacking in fiber by the way, blood sugar absorption is faster than when you eat fiber rich foods, which serve as barriers and slows down the rate of sugar absorption from the blood. This is good because slower sugar absorption results in lower blood sugar.
Many refined foods are rich in high fructose corn syrup. Food processing companies routinely use it as it’s a cheaper alternative to other sources like honey. This therefore, allows them make their products sweeter without necessarily driving up their costs.
This, right here, is where the problem lies. This is used in almost everything from cereals to soda, thus making it a huge source of empty calories. Here’s the kicker –a 2004 study showed that most people exceed their daily sugar intake limits by simply taking sizable portions of high fructose corn syrup based foods.
So, chances are that when you take your processed cereals with some sweetened milk and then drink some fruit juice in the morning, you have already exceeded your daily sugar limit. But, because you don’t know this, you go on to take some more foods with hidden or obvious sugars during the course of the day. Do you see why it’s so easy to become diabetic now?
The Dangers of Hidden Sugar
Here’s the reality: sugars taken in very moderate quantities are very good for your body. After all, that’s’ what your body converts into energy. The real issue is with the sugars that “sneak” into our bodies without us even knowing.
These are dangerous to our health and capable of causing irreversible damage to us and our well-being. Excess sugar consumption just about causes damage to all organs in the body, predisposing you to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
It also affects your digestive system, triggering inflammation and disrupting the medium in which good gut bacteria and microorganisms thrive. This last one often results in digestive issues and conditions.
But, before we jump right into outlining the real dangers of hidden sugars, we need to first identify the sources. The key to eliminating excess sugar from your regular diet is paying attention to the foods you eat and any consumables you purchase in the market. In fact, if you want to stay healthy and eliminate all the aforementioned risks associated with hidden sugar, you will need to start paying serious attention to your food labels.
The good news is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already outlined the possible sources of hidden sugars. According to the USDA, the following are excellent sources of hidden/added sugars:
- anhydrous dextrose
- brown sugar
- confectioner's powdered sugar
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
- pancake syrup
- raw sugar
- white granulated sugar
Other unofficial – unofficial because they aren’t recognized by the FDA- sugars include
- cane juice
- evaporated corn sweetener
- crystal dextrose,
- liquid fructose
- sugar cane juice
- fruit nectar
Do watch out for all these when next you go shopping. This way, you won’t end up taking more than your daily sugar recommendations.
If you must take sugars, choose those with less processing and refining, and even then, take them in smaller quantities. Some examples of these include
- blackstrap molasses,
- pure unrefined honey,
- coconut palm sugar
- lo han
- brown rice syrup
- date sugar
- banana puree
- balsamic glaze
- maple syrup
Now that you know what to look for and what to use as sweeteners, let’s take a quick look at the dangers consuming these added sugars can do to your body and health.
Causes Sugar Addictions
Have you observed that no matter how much sugar you take, you only want more, and in higher quantities? This is why many people progressively increase their sugar intake. This is often because of adaptability.
The more sugar you take, the more your taste buds adapt and your brain starts associating pleasure with its consumption. When this happens, the brain releases dopamine which is a “feel good” hormone.
After a while, your body becomes so used to the feeling that it literally craves it. And in order to satisfy the urge, you’ll have to take even more sugar. This is even more dangerous because unlike other foods, wherein your brain tells you when you’ve had enough, it’s not the same with sugars.
If anything, sugars trigger an opposite reaction –it keeps encouraging even more sugar intake. This is also why many people eat more quantities of sweetened processed foods than they do of regular natural or organic foods.
Unfortunately, taking sugar in these huge quantities causes incredible damage to your organs. The first thing it does is induce insulin resistance –a condition where the individual starts experiencing high blood sugar- which often leads to obesity, prediabetes and diabetes.
Lowers Productivity and Interferes with Cognitive Functions
There’s a reason lots of people take energy drinks and other drinks that are filled with added sugar: it’s because of the initial energy rush that they feel. The downside however, is that this sugar induced energy is often countermanded by the crash that soon follows.
So, even though you feel like you’re getting a lot done in the short term, the crash will result in one of two things: you either feel very tired or have to take another can of drinks to keep you going.
This cycle more often than not, detracts from your productivity, causing you to sleep earlier than expected or suffer impaired cognitive function and brain fog after a while.
Even worse is the side effects associated with the caffeine content in some of these drinks. Excess caffeine intake often results in symptoms like anxiety, irritability, poor concentration and mood swings. All these affect your ability to think clearly, get more work done and work for longer.
Tendency to become Overweight, Obese and Diabetic
Obesity is America’s and the world’s fastest growing epidemic. More and more people are becoming overweight, obese, prediabetic and diabetic.
And all of these conditions are indirectly connected to the consumption of hidden sugars. This is probably why you’ll find slim people who have diabetes, even if it’s more common among fat people.
There’s also the issue of taking so much empty calories that it gets in the way of eating nutrient rich foods. This is courtesy of the fact that refined and processed foods that are rich in added sugars tend to be filling. This further increases the risk of unhealthy eating.
Then, there’s the body of studies that have shown that the unwitting consumption of hidden sugars does help to increase the possibility of individuals suffering from a condition known as metabolic syndrome. This is a chronic condition that usually results in a series of critical organ malfunctions of that eventually result in one or more fatal diseases.
So, it’s not just enough to watch how much known sugar you ingest. What you should watch out for is just how much empty calories you’re consuming in the form of added sugars and how it can adversely affect your health.
What Can You Do to Curb the Effects of These Sugars?
This is an important question seeing as most of us have consumed more added sugars than we’ll ever know and will most likely continue, unless we take critical steps to curbing the intakes of these sugars. The following tips can help you do just that:
- Watch your sugar intake – this is particularly important during your breakfast, as this is when most people tend to exceed their daily sugar limits by eating cereals for breakfast. Instead, opt for whole grain cereals, protein shakes or smoothies, eggs with vegetables or a few slices of apples with black unsweetened tea or coffee.
- Add healthy fats to your meals – healthy fats are important in your daily mix of foods and diet. Start eating more of them as they help you lose weight, increase your metabolic rate and keep you feeling full for longer. Try eating more nuts, avocado, and flaxseed. Cook with virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
- Switch to organic and natural sweeteners – we already listed some of them for you above. Use those and get rid of all forms of refined, processed or granulated sugars. Also avoid already sweetened foods which often contain sugar crumbs or all things with sugar.
- Watch your snacking – we all tend to want to snack during the day, at work or while idle. Whatever the case, be sure to avoid any snacks that rare sugar rich or made from processed foods. Instead, opt for nuts, fruits and veggies as your snacking options. These are better, healthier and more effective for keeping you in great health, compared to cookies, candies, pies, or doughnuts. They also eliminate every source of hidden sugar from your snacking.
- Cut out sweetened beverage – the average person is used to taking cans of soda, beer, energy drinks, alcohol and fruit juices. These are confirmed sources of hidden sugars, and one that most people don’t even know of. Instead, drink more water as your beverage. If you have an overwhelming urge to drink soda or any sugar rich drink, here’s what we recommend you do: take a full bottle of cold water. And if you still have the cravings for your sweet drinks within five minutes, then go ahead. We’re willing to guarantee though, that it will quench your thirst.
We may have mentioned some of these tips earlier, but they are so important that they bear repeating. If you do the aforementioned, you will find that you will be in great health, lower your risk of developing any of the dangerous health conditions, and live a long, healthy, disease free life.
It is possible to live without added sugars, and enjoy the rewarding benefits of a healthy life. But it has to be a daily effort. Getting rid of hidden sugars is a lifestyle thing. You have to actively commit to it before it becomes habitual. And if you slip up during the course of making the change, don’t sweat it. Just get back on track by eliminating the sources that could potentially tempt you again.
We want you to live long and be healthy. You can start the journey to a healthy, disease free life by simply implementing the tips you’ve read here today. Good luck and let’s know how you are faring in the comments section.