The Granular on Sweeteners

The US Dietary Guidelines limits added sugars in our diets to less than 10% of calories per day. Read food labels to understand nutritive sweetener levels.
The Granular on Sweeteners - Videos

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More by Stacy Reed, MS 

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- [Narrator] The Granular on Sweeteners.

In this Learn Now video we will discuss common nutritive sweeteners used in foods and how we can read labels to evaluate the sugars in our foods prior to consumption.

This video will not be discussing high-intensity sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which can also be used to sweeten foods.

By definition, sweeteners are substances used to sweeten foods and beverages in addition to the naturally occurring sugars which are present in foods.

Most of us like sweet foods.

The earliest sweet foods available to humans were fruits and honey.

Later, when humans discovered how to refine the sweet juice of sugar cane and sugar beets, it became easier to make foods sweeter by just adding refined sugar.

The table sugar that you buy in the grocery store or sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets.

It is a disaccharide made of two simple sugar molecules, glucose and fructose linked together.

Glucose and fructose can also be used independently as ingredients in manufacturing food.

A variety of other nutritive sweeteners are used as ingredients in foods.

They include high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, galactose, lactose, dextrose, and maltose.

Fructose also occurs naturally in many fruits and lactose is what gives milk its slightly sweet taste.

Some vegetables have other natural sugars.

Plus, we can use natural sweeteners like honey, sorghum, molasses, and maple syrup, as pictured.

Sucrose and many other sweeteners are added to many products in the American food supply.

As a result, in 2015, American consumed about 69 pounds of sugar per person per year, or roughly 21 teaspoons of refined sugar per day, equaling more than 336 calories that most of us do not need in our diets.

For example, a can of regular soda has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and contains approximately 150 calories.

Drinks containing high amounts of added sugar account for more than 47% of added sugars in the American diet.

It is very easy to take in more sugar in your diet than needed.

Refined sugar and similar sweeteners are carbohydrates.

Our bodies use carbohydrates as energy sources measured in calories.

Sugar and the sweeteners mentioned before all contain energy, four calories worth per gram.

Sugar equals 16 calories per teaspoon but no useful vitamins or minerals.

Thus, we often call sugar and sweetener calories empty calories.

This is why we need to be careful about choosing foods with added sugars, especially in foods that we choose for children.

The 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting adding sugars to less than 10% of consumed calories per day.

Americans are really consuming roughly 270 calories, or 13 to 17% added sugars daily.

Since sugar contains calories, eating large amounts of sweets, such as candy, cakes, and pies or drinking sugar sweetened drinks can lead to weight gain and increased risk of dental cavities.

Is using honey or other natural sweeteners a better choice than refined table sugar?

The answer is no.

If you're looking for fewer calories as shown here in this summary chart, you can see common household sweeteners range from 16 to 21 calories per teaspoon.

One of the best ways to manage your sugar or sweetener intake is to read both the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list on food packages.

As of July 2016, the new nutrition facts panel, passed by the US FDA lists sugar under Total Carbohydrates and Total Sugars, which include added sugar information are now broken out.

The sugar content listed here includes naturally occurring sugars like those in fruit and milk as well as those added to the food item.

Food packaging with the new label must comply by 2018.

When reading ingredient declarations, look for the specific names of added sweeteners such as, sucrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, and maltose.

You may also see other refined sugars such as, confectioner's sugar, powdered sugar, dextrose, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, sugar alcohols, and high-intensity sweeteners.

Sometimes glucose is listed as dextrose.

Note the location of the sugar in the list.

The ingredient listed first is the most by weight in that particular food item.

If various sweeteners are high on the list, you might want to choose another food.

Examine your choices.

You can cut down on calories by eating less foods made with added sugars and sweeteners.

For example, buy breakfast cereals having the least amount of sugars and add fresh fruit.

Or purchase low-fat plain yogurt and add your own favorite fruit.

And if you're thirsty, drink water and add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange for flavor.

So, read labels and facts panels to get the granular on sweeteners.

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