Eliminating Hidden Sugars

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team on April 12, 2013
spoonful sugar going into coffee

Sugar is everywhere today. Not only is it an extremely common additive to many foods, it's also a leading culprit in conditions from inflammation to obesity. Even if you're careful with your intake of desserts and sweetened foods, sugar may be creeping into your diet from sources you'd least expect.

The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave--and the more sugar it takes to make a food taste sweet. However, when you decrease the amount of added sugar in your diet, fresh fruit will begin to taste sweeter and "sweets" will begin to taste sickeningly sweet. Change your perception of sweetness one spoonful of added sugar at a time with these tips on cutting back.

Train Your Sweet Tooth
How can you limit your sugar intake? Start by decreasing the amount of sugar you currently use. Many recipes are just as good with a bit less sugar than called for. If you drink tea or coffee, try cutting the amount of sugar you use by half. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that, over time, you won't notice the difference.

Read Labels
Read the label before tossing an item into your grocery cart. You may be surprised by how much sugar is added to foods that don't necessarily taste sweet, such as bread, cereal, frozen vegetables (really!), and pasta sauces. Many foods that are already naturally sweet, such as fruit juice and yogurt, are often loaded with added sugar. For example, a dessert-flavored yogurt, like cheesecake, may contain 20 to 30 grams of sugar per serving--much more than is needed to taste sweet.

Beware of Euphemisms
It's not enough to keep an eye out just for sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Molasses, maple syrup, honey, beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, maltose or maltodextrin, lactose, sucrose, and barley malt, among many others, all mean "sugar." Likewise, anything labeled "fat free" can be deceptive. Although you may be eliminating fat, these items often add extra sugar to buffer the taste of missing fat.

Understand "Natural"
Eliminating added sugar from your diet is difficult, but you can't escape sugar completely: fruit naturally contains sugar (fructose), as do milk and yogurt (lactose). Sometimes naturally sweet foods are used to add sweetness to a product without being considered added sugar. For example, apple juice is added to most fruit juices because it's naturally very sweet, but it's also less nutritious than other juices. Too much of any kind of sugar--naturally occurring or added--can be a risk factor for several conditions, including cavities.

At first, it may seem that less sugar makes everything taste worse. Be patient. Your body will adjust and you'll be able to detect the sweetness of food more acutely as you consume less sugar. You may even lose a few pounds and be able to sail through the holidays without your typical weight gain. If you still crave sugar, allow yourself a few sweet bites now and then. With all the sugar you've eliminated from your regular diet, now you can afford it too!

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