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Keeping Sugar to a Minimum in Your Diet

Sugars, which are simple carbohydrates, are found naturally in many nutritious foods, including milk, fruits, some vegetables, breads, cereals, and grains. Many of these are a part of any healthy diet. But sugars are sometimes used as preservatives and thickeners; they’re also added to foods during preparation, during processing, and at the table.

Sugar substitutes, such as sorbitol, saccharin, and aspartame, are ingredients in many foods. Most sugar substitutes don’t provide significant calories, and therefore, may be useful in the diets of people who are concerned about calorie intake.

Foods containing sugar substitutes, however, may not always be lower in calories than similar products containing sugars, so check labels. Unless you reduce the total number of calories you eat, the use of sugar substitutes will not help you lose weight.

In the process of digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates (with the exception of fiber) into sugars. Interestingly, no matter whether the sugar is added or found naturally in a food, your body can’t tell the difference because, from a chemical standpoint, all sugar is the same.

For example, whether you eat canned fruit packed in natural juices or canned fruit packed in heavy syrup, your body digests it in exactly the same way. The difference is that fruit packed in its own juices is much lower in calories than fruit packed in syrup, because natural juice contains less sugar than syrup does.

Contrary to popular belief, sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity or diabetes. But it can cause dental cavities and supply unnecessary calories. Sugary foods are usually low in nutrients, too, so eat foods with added sugar sparingly if you want to lose weight.

Sugar shows up on food labels in many forms. If one of the terms in the following list (from the USDA Dietary Guidelines) appears as the first or second ingredient on a food label, or several are used in a single product, it’s an indication that the food is probably high in sugar. It also means that the food has sugar added to it, because the sugars that are naturally present in foods aren’t listed in the ingredients.

  • Brown sugar

  • Corn sweetener or corn syrup

  • Dextrose

  • Fructose

  • Fruit juice concentrate

  • Glucose (dextrose)

  • High-fructose corn syrup

  • Honey

  • Invert sugar

  • Lactose

  • Maltose

  • Malt syrup

  • Molasses

  • Raw sugar

  • (Table) sugar (sucrose)

  • Syrup

Keep in mind that many reduced-fat and fat-free products are high in sugar, which also keeps their calorie contents high; so check labels before you decide to splurge. Finally, unlike the ingredient list, the Nutrition Facts panel on most food products includes sugars, which include both naturally occurring and added sugars, so it’s easy to see at a glance how much sugar a food provides.

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