Currently, health experts recommend that no more than 25 percent of our total daily calories come from sugar. Some sources of sugar are fairly obvious, like candy and sugar-sweetened drinks and sodas. The average 12-ounce can of cola contains more than 33 grams of sugar. A 1.5-ounce chocolate bar has 25 grams. Fruits also contain sugar (14 grams in a medium apple, 25 grams in a cup of grapes) as well as fruit juices (21 grams in one cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice). Some fruit juices even contain added sugar. But sugar is also found in foods we don’t always associate with sweetness, like ketchup, bread and yogurt. In addition, many foods don’t use the word “sugar” in the ingredients list, calling the sweet ingredients another name, like fructose, sucrose or dextrose.
Some other names to watch out for: Corn syrup, made from corn and contains mostly glucose. High fructose corn syrup, a mixture of glucose and fructose. Although the combinations can vary, it’s usually 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose. Galactose, a simple sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose, another milk sugar, made of one unit of galactose and one unit of glucose. Cereals can be a big source of sugar for children and adults.
Sue Cunningham, PhD., R.D., Nutrition Assistant Professor at UT Health Science Center, San Antonio, says one way to evaluate a cereal is to compare the carbohydrate and sugar contents. In a high sugar cereal, the grams of sugar equals half or more of the total carbohydrates. Another sneaky sugar source is found in canned fruits. While fruits are a healthy food choice, they can be packed in sugar syrups that add extra calories. Look for fruits that are canned in their own juices.
Consumers also need to be on the lookout for sugar alcohols (also called polyols). These are artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. They are much sweeter than sugar, less is needed to provide the right taste. Sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed and metabolized by the body, so products with them can be labeled as “sugar free” or “sugarless.” Yet these sugar substitutes still contain 1.5 to 3 calories/gram.