More Than a Spoonful of Sugar

— Written By Janice Fields and last updated by
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Are you one of those with a “sweet tooth?” Do you know which foods contain added sugar? Whether we realize it or not, most of us consume way too much sugar. We make over 200 nutrition/food decisions every day. We should make sure most of those decisions are beneficial to our health.

Please understand, this is about added sugar, not sugar found naturally in food. Natural sugar in fruits, veggies, and dairy are not a problem, because those foods contain other essential nutrients. Sugar, in one form or another, is added to many processed and prepared foods including breads, cakes, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and more. A little of any food with added sugar is OKAY to consume. The problem occurs when we consume too much of too many foods that contain added sugar. So, how much is too much? Americans consume 26-30 teaspoons added sugar each day. The current recommended upper limit for women is 6 teaspoons daily and 9 teaspoons for men. If you drink one 20-ounce soft drink, you are already over your limit with 15 teaspoons sugar. Where is all this added sugar in our diets? Processed foods contain 74 percent of the added sugar consumed in the United States. Soft drinks consumed make up 43 percent of our sugar. Grain-based desserts have 19 percent, candy has 16 percent, and dairy desserts contain 9 percent. Some foods, like peanut butter and spaghetti sauce, don’t even taste sweet, yet one serving contains 3 and 10 grams of sugar. My favorite condiment, ketchup, has 4 grams sugar in each tablespoon!

You may ask if one sugar is healthier than another. Metabolically, your body doesn’t know the difference between any sugars, whether it’s regular white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, or sugar-in-the-raw. The danger with any of these is the amount consumed. All added sugars in excess contribute to inflammation and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, gout, tooth decay, and metabolic syndrome.

All calories are not created equal. While calories in food are filling and contain needed nutrients, liquid calories are different and deceiving. Our bodies don’t recognize the calories in liquids as filling and are added onto our calories from food. I hate to even mention our Southern love affair with sweet tea, which often has even more sugar than soft drinks. It is best to not drink sugar in any form.

If you’re thinking you should go crazy and try to remove all sugar from your diet, think again. That would be a difficult task and probably not even possible. Instead, consider making a few simple changes to reduce the added sugar in your diet. How could I give up my honey and chocolate? One way to decrease sugar is to DIY (do-it-yourself). Make coffee yourself instead of purchasing from the local coffee shop, saving yourself 4-8 teaspoons of added sugar in a purchased, coffee-based beverage. Other strategies include reading labels, not drinking sugar, choosing unsweetened products, and making your own foods while controlling the amount of sugar. Above all, practice moderation and mindful eating.

For more information, please contact Janice Fields, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website at North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Written By

Janice Fields, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionJanice FieldsExtension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences Call Janice Email Janice N.C. Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center
Posted on May 27, 2015
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