Sweetness and Light
Posted: November 30, 2011
Energy drink, anyone? How about a high energy bar? Would these products have the same appeal if they were called calorie drinks or high calorie bars? A recent University of Minnesota study looked at how much consumers know about energy. Energy is the term used for the caloric content of food and the body’s caloric expenditure in supporting basic bodily functions and physical activity. The public’s perception is that energy is good, and that is correct - energy is a good thing and we need energy supplied by food in order to live and move – quantity is the key.
How would you do in the food energy quiz? Do you know how many teaspoons of sugar is a reasonable amount for one day? How about whether one gram of carbohydrate has more or less calories than a gram of protein or fat? These are simple ideas that can help us understand energy balance better and guide us in making better decisions in shopping.
Energy (or calories) in food is in the form of carbohydrate, fat and protein, as well as alcohol. Carbohydrates include food starches as well as sugars (natural or added). Carbohydrates and protein have about 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7. A gram is a small unit of weight. For example, a teaspoon of sugar weighs about four grams.
Excess sugars contribute to tooth decay, extra pounds, and abnormalities in insulin and triglyceride levels. The new 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that over one third of our calories come from added sugars and solid fats – empty calories.
Sugars occur naturally in fruit and dairy products. Even the convenience of packaged juice contributes to the overabundance of sugar. While our forebears might have consumed multiple servings of fruit in one day, the 12-22 grams of fruit sugar in one serving of fruit would have been accompanied by the fiber and hunger-satisfying bulk of the fruit. In comparison, unsweetened fruit juices have 24 to 38 grams of sugar per cup - twice as much as a serving of fruit. In addition to the natural sugars contributed to our foods by juices and concentrated fruit juices, sugars are added to beverages and dairy drinks, yogurt, fruits, sauces, confections, gelatin and bakery products and desserts.
There are many sources of sugars added to foods, including sugar, honey, corn syrup (including high fructose corn syrup), maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses and sorghum. Less familiar terms that indicate added sugars on a food label include dextrin, dextrose and other words ending in –ose, such as sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and mannose.
Check the ingredients panel for added sugars as a start. Also check the nutrition facts panel under carbohydrates – compare the sugar content of products. The sugar content listed includes naturally occurring sugars as well as added sugars. Added sugars are not routinely available on the nutrition facts panel. You can check the “USDA Data Base for Added Sugar Content of Selected Foods” (2006). The values are stated as grams of sugars in 100 grams of food (about 3 ½ oz.). To access this database, visit: http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/Add_Sug/addsug01.pdf
Limiting added sugars in food to about 8 teaspoons (32 grams) per day is recommended. The average American consumes 20 teaspoons a day. Choose sugar free products and unsweetened cereals and fruits. Try reducing sugar in recipes and serving smaller, less frequent desserts. Daily desserts made sense in the farming communities of our forebears, where great physical work was demanded, and high energy foods were needed to sustain that work.
Rayna Cooper is a Registered Dietitian and the Penn State Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Sciences/Nutrition Educator serving the Southeast Region, based in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271, email email@example.com.