The average American consumes a whopping 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, reveals the surprising places the sweet stuff is lurking, and how to cut back to the American Heart Association's recommended six teaspoons per day. By Ava Feuer, REDBOOK.
When you eat an entire bag of gummy bears, or down a large soda the movies, you're aware of what you're getting yourself into. But more than half of the sugar in our diets is strewn across the entire range of what we eat, put there by the food industry to make things taste, well, sweeter. And even if you're a careful reader of nutrition labels, you might never know it. "There are 56 names for sugar," says Dr. Lustig. "If you can figure out a way to have five or six different kinds of sugar in one product, then you can make some type of sugar fall further down the list. When you add them up, they add up to number one."
Tomatoes are full of citric acid, which is comparable to vinegar, and none too pleasing to the taste buds. Especially with the immature variety that's forced into a jar, sugar is necessary to negate the acid on your tongue. Since tomato sauce is certainly a healthier option than many creamy pasta sauces, it's worth the few minutes it takes to make your own. Dr. Lustig cuts, stews, and blends fresh tomatoes with his favorite spices for a healthier and equally satisfying marinara.
When you choose to sip a glass of vino, you likely think you're making a healthy decision in choosing it over juice-laden cocktails. That's true, however, you can make an even better choice by pouring red. Many white whites, especially German Rieslings, have added sugar to disguise the acidity of grapes that didn't get enough sun. In contrast, the grapes used in red wine are grown in more southern regions, meaning they receive adequate sunlight, and don't need to be altered, explains Dr. Lustig.
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When it comes to adding flavor to your greens, the simpler the better. Even seemingly healthy options like balsamic vinaigrettes are laced with sugar, and fat-free varieties are the worst offenders. In order to eliminate fat without sacrificing flavor, manufacturers pour in the sweet stuff. At restaurants, request heart-healthy olive oil and vinegar, and at home, stir together mustard, balsamic vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and the spices of your choice.
High in calcium and low in calories, this stuff's the ideal afternoon snack, right? Not if yours is fruit-flavored, or comes with a packet of mix-in fruit. A lawsuit pending against Chobani claims the Greek yogurt-maker is violating federal law with its claims of "no added sugar." In fact, about one-third of its calories come from evaporated cane juice, one of many names for what is essentially white sugar. Meanwhile, when Dr. Lustig examined a six-ounce pomegranate yogurt, he found it had 12 grams of added sugar, the same amount as a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. Keep probiotic- and calcium-rich yogurt in your diet, but opt for the plain kind, and mix in fresh fruit.
Add sugar to the list of reasons to choose dark over milk or white chocolate. You'll notice that the higher percentage cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate, which explains why despite all the studies touting its health benefits, people aren't snatching up the stuff stamped with an 80 percent label. That said, the lower the percentage of cocoa, the more flavorings, like sugar, are added to round out the taste, so go as high as you can stand. A one-ounce serving of dark chocolate is a low-calorie, heart-healthy treat thanks to its high concentration of flavonoids and polyphenols.
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Even the whole grain kind has added sugar, which is put there to make loaves brown better, and appear more attractive to shoppers. "Buy bread at your local bakery instead of the bread on the shelves of the grocery store," advises Dr. Lustig. With its lack of added sugar, the homemade kind lasts a few days rather than a few weeks, but you're supporting local businesses and your family's well-being.
Sugar is lurking in the condiment aisle - and on your French fries. Almost one-quarter of Heinz's basic Tomato Ketchup - about 4 grams per 17-gram or one tablespoon serving - is high fructose corn syrup, not to mention that many of us eat plenty more than that at a time. Artisanal ketchups taste nothing like the mass market varieties thanks to the natural acidity of the tomatoes used, so if you can't stomach the flavor, try mustard instead.
Those who shun sugar cereals often turn to granola for a seemingly better breakfast option, but watch out. Eating a bowl can be equivalent to downing a soda, so if you do love the stuff, try replacing it with muesli. Both have oats and nuts, but unlike granola, muesli is filled with fruit. Its naturally occurring fructose is the only sugar involved.
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Much of the fruit you're gnawing on when you can't find the fresh variety isn't really the same - it's immature. "If they were mature, they'd sell them for real," says Dr. Lustig. "They have to make them palatable, so they add sugar." Though not true of every brand, it's important to check for a "no sugar added" label on the bag. Better yet, to get your recommended daily intake when berry season is months away, think ahead. When fresh fruit is available, chop it up and freeze it yourself to reap all the benefits and none of the disadvantages.
Jelly's favorite accompaniment is full of protein and healthy fat, making it a good staple of your - and your children's - diet. However, sugar is the second ingredient in many leading brands, and the reduced fat kinds are the worst. Even some organic varieties are packed with sweetener, so make sure your jar clearly states, "no sugar added."
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