Silent Killer: The Lowdown on Sugar

Silent Killer: The Lowdown on Sugar

Not so long ago, the American Heart Association reported that Americans eat on average 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily.

Let that sink in while I do the math.

Every teaspoonful of sugar is about 4 grams. At 22 teaspoonfuls, we get 88 grams of sugar, and at 4 calories per gram of sugar, that's an astounding 352 calories each day just in added sugar!

With the onset of pre-diabetes and diabetes at an all-time high, understanding how to identify sugar correctly on a label and incorporate it into carbohydrate counting and meal planning is imperative in any diabetic's life.

It's very common for individuals to talk about limiting sugar in the food they eat, and limiting sugar can be done. However, it should not be done without considering overall carbohydrate intake and the overall balance of your daily diet.

Simple sugars provide little or no nutrition outside of carbohydrates, but they can certainly be a pleasant part of our day. We don’t want to leave them out entirely, but we do want to plan realistically for the right amount of sugar.

What is Sugar?

Sugar is one type of carbohydrate and generally NOT the primary item you are looking for as you read the labels of your food items. The number next to sugar is already included in the number next to carbohydrate. If you read the number of carbohydrates in a food item, sugar content is already being taken into consideration.

Consuming these without a good balance of other nutrients like protein and fiber can cause the blood sugars to be less stable

The American Heart Association has issued a daily, healthy goal of no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams/96 calories) of added sugars for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams/144 calories) for men.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are a component of foods that are used by the body for energy, whether immediate or stored for later use.

As one calculates a meal plan, be sure to count carbohydrates. Here, the 14g of Sugar is already calculated in the 17g of Total Carbohydrate.

Types of Sugar

Sugars come in many forms. For example, fructose sugar is natural to fruits. Therefore, if the flavoring of a food you are choosing is flavored with fructose, the amount of sugar will be somewhat higher than if it has no added sugars.

High fructose corn syrup is a completely different, man-made sweetener.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell what types of sugars the nutrition facts label is referring to even after reading the list of nutrients. Sometimes the list looks like a list of chemicals. I encourage you to choose foods whose labels read like a list of foods. The best choices are foods that are easy to identify without a label.

For those with diabetes, aiming for 30-45 grams of carbohydrate per meal is adequate, while 15-30 grams as a snack is plenty. If less than half of that comes in the form of sugar, we are off to a great start!

Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator

Comment by Tamiz1
April 21, 2015
Does that mean that the extra grams of carbohydrates above the 14g is complex carbs? I guess my thought is that simple carbs would be incorporated into the sugar figure, while complex would not necessarily be... I am probably way off completely understanding this though. For a variety of issues, it is very important for me to understand. :)
Comment by Betsy
March 14, 2015
So most of the carbs listed above are from sugar. Dietary fiber is 1g. This does not sound like a healthy food to choose. Correct?
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