Aging Well: Use common sense, detective work to be sugar smart |

Aging Well: Use common sense, detective work to be sugar smart

Tamera Manzanares

It happens every year. Just as we recover from the holidays' sugary excess, we are bombarded with Valentine's Day and sweet temptations.

Most of us will indulge in a handful or two of candy hearts and chocolates. Little treats here and there can add bright spots to our days, especially in the depths of winter.

Unfortunately, everyday processed foods and excess treats already are adding too much sugar into many Americans' diets. Experts think added sugars likely contribute to obesity and other serious health conditions.

Occasional sweets don't have to be coated in guilt. Limiting added sugar and using common sense to get beyond confusing sugar information can help keep us healthy and make treats more enjoyable.

How much is OK

Some sugar is found naturally in foods such as fruits and milk. It also is added to processed foods and drinks to boost flavor, add texture and color and provide other non-nutritive functions.

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Added sugars can include natural sugars such as white sugar and honey, as well as caloric sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup, that have been chemically manufactured. Major sources of added sugars include non-diet soft drinks, candy, baked desserts and pastries, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and milk products and some processed grain products such as waffles and cereal.

Sugar provides no health advantage or nutrients. Although small amounts are OK, too much can lead to health problems including tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Excessive sugar is thought to increase triglyceride levels and contribute to insulin resistance, putting a person at risk for developing problems including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

Calories from added sugar are considered discretionary calories, or calories that, ideally, only are included in a person's daily diet if they have calories to spare after satisfying their nutrition needs. Calories from alcohol and some fats also are among those considered discretionary.

In 2009, the American Heart Association issued specific daily guidelines recommending no more than 100 calories, or about six teaspoons, of added sugar for most women and 150 calories, or about nine teaspoons, for most men.

Many people use all of or more than their discretionary sugar calories on one serving of a sweet beverage. A 12-ounce serving of cola, for example, has about 10 teaspoons of added sugar, according to the Nutrition Source at the Harvard School of Public Health.

To learn more about how much sugar is added to many favorite beverages, visit and type "how sweet is it" in the search box.

Cutting it out

Staying away from soft drinks and other obviously sugary foods is a big step toward limiting added sugar. Being smart about food labels can help consumers cut out less apparent culprits.

The sugar line on a nutrition facts panel includes naturally occurring sugars from fruit and milk as well as added sugars. The ingredients label will reveal if there is added sugar.

Added sugar is cloaked in a variety of names. Being familiar with the most common of these (see box) can help people in their detective work.

Keep in mind that natural sugar substitutes, such as agave nectar, honey and juice concentrates, have the same amount of calories — four per gram — as table sugar.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Avoid products with added sugar at or near the top or several sources of added sugar sprinkled throughout the list.

Be aware that many seemingly "healthy" foods such as some yogurts, packaged dried fruits, canned fruits, granola and energy bars are sweetened with added sugars or syrups. Sugar also is added to some condiments including ketchup and salad dressings.

Focusing on a diet with more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and fewer processed foods and drinks is the best way to avoid added sugar.

When possible, opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups and jams. Try making your own baked goods, cutting sugar by one-third to one-half or substituting an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce for sugar.

Although many artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes offer advantages such as zero or low calories, they should not be a license to overly consume foods that have other high-calorie ingredients or are low in nutrients.

Experts recommend consumers look beyond label claims, inform themselves and consume these sweeteners in moderation.

This article includes information from the Mayo Clinic,, the American Heart Association,, and the Harvard School of Public Health,

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information,visit or call 970-871-7676.

Names for added sugars

■ White or granulated white sugar

■ Brown sugar

■ Confectioners sugar

■ Raw sugar

■ Turbinado sugar

■ Date sugar

■ Maple sugar or syrup

■ Cane juice or syrup

■ Corn syrup or sweeteners

■ High-fructose corn syrup

■ Invert sugar

■ Fruit juice concentrate

■ Malt sugar or syrup

■ Syrup

■ Honey

■ Molasses

■ Agave nectar

■ Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, glucose, sucrose, etc.)

Sources: The Mayo Clinic and Harvard School of Public Health

Low-sugar drink ideas

■ Infused water: Add citrus or cucumber slices, fresh mint or other herbs or peeled and sliced ginger to your glass of water.

■ Tea: Tea is naturally calorie-free, so adding a teaspoon of sugar or honey is fine. Some teas taste sweet without sugar. Black and green teas also are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids that might be good for health.

■ Coffee: Coffee is calorie-free, but avoid loading it with cream and sugar. Pass on coffeehouse confections with whipped cream and sugar syrups, which can have upwards of 300 to 400 calories per extra-large cup.

■ Sparkling water with a splash of juice: Sparkling juices sold ready-made often are heavy on the juice and may have almost as many calories as soda. Make your own at home with 12 ounces of sparkling water and an ounce or two of juice. For a flavor twist, add sliced citrus or fresh herbs.

■ Fresh fruit cooler: Store-bought or cafe smoothies often are loaded with sugar and high in calories. Make a sugar-free fresh fruit cooler instead: Place 1/2 cup ice, 3/4 cup sparkling water, 1/3 cup melon or berries and chopped mint leaves or citrus slices in a blender. Blend until slushy.

Source: Harvard School of Public Health

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