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Complementary Corner

Hunting for Hidden Sugar
Part 3

Renee Lehman

(4/2012) This is the third of three articles discussing sugar usage in America. February’s article dealt with the amount of sugar that Americans consume and its effects on the body. Last month’s article dealt with Traditional Chinese Medicine’s view of sweets. This month’s article deals with hidden sugar in foods and alternative sweeteners.

Basic Conversions

Before we start hunting for hidden sugar, let us go over a basic conversion that you need to know. Pull out a bag of sugar, a measuring teaspoon, and a small dish. Measure out one teaspoon of sugar into the dish. That one teaspoon equals four grams of sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams of sugar). A 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams of sugar in it. Therefore, it contains 10 teaspoons of sugar! So, in your dish, put 9 more teaspoons of sugar. Look at that! Finally, 4 grams of sugar (1 teaspoon) is equal to 16 calories (1 teaspoon of sugar = 16 calories). So, that 12 ounce can of soda has 160 calories in it, all from sugar.

Understanding Labels

You may not be surprised about the high amount of sugar in sodas. However, you may be shocked by the number of foods that have sugars hidden within them. When you read a food label, all of the sugars are lumped together, including the naturally-occurring sugars (like lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) within foods. This can make deciphering the label a little confusing. So, for example, when looking at a label on a gallon of low-fat milk, it will list the amount of sugar per cup as 13 grams even though it contains no "added" sugar. Or, when reading nutritional information about a typical tomato (that is 100 grams in weight and has 21 calories), it has 3.92 grams of naturally-occurring sugar.

Plus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to add an "Added Sugars" line (in grams) within the "Sugars" section on the nutrition facts label. Instead, the added sugars are only mentioned in the ingredient list, and are only mentioned in decreasing weight order, not by percentage of calories.

So, you will often see a variety of added sweeteners on the label of a product. No matter what these sweeteners are called, they all do the same thing to food (make it taste sweeter). To understand how much sugar has been added to a food, look for the following common sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, turdinado sugar, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn sweeteners, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, molasses, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, fructose, galactose, glucose, hydrolyzed starch, and fruit juice concentrates.

Foods with Hidden Sugars

So what foods have hidden amounts of sugars? You might not expect the following examples! Brand names are not included so as not to indict a particular product.

  • Ketchup: One serving (1 Tbsp) has 4 grams of sugar (1 tsp); 20 calories total (16 of which come from sugar)
  • Peanut Butter: One serving (2 Tbsp) has 3 grams of sugar (approximately 1 tsp); 190 calories total (16 of which come from sugar)
  • Iced Tea: One bottle (16oz) has 46 grams of sugar (11.5 tsp); 200 calories total (184 of which come from sugar)
  • Fruit Yogurt: One container has 26 grams of sugar (more than 6 tsp); 170 calories total (96 of which come from sugar)
  • Cream of Chicken Soup: One serving (1/2 cup of the condensed soup) has 7 grams of sugar (almost 2 tsp); 80 calories total (almost 32 of which come from sugar)
  • Favorite cracker: One serving (5 crackers) has 1 gram of sugar (1 tsp); 79 calories total (16 of which come from sugar)
  • Apple Sauce: One serving (1 cup) has around 23 grams of sugar (almost 6 tsp); 100 calories total (96 of which come from sugar)
  • Diced Peaches in light syrup: One serving (1cup) has 18 grams of sugar (4 ˝ tsp); 80 calories total (72 of which come from sugar)
  • Cereal Bars: One bar has 12 grams of sugar (3 tsp); 130 calories total (48 of which come from sugar)
  • Instant Oatmeal, Cinnamon flavored: One envelope has 13 grams of sugar (over 3 tsp); 160 calories total (more than 48 of which come from sugar)
  • A "healthy" Oat Bran Cereal: One serving (3/4 cup) has 15 grams of sugar (almost 4 tsp); 200 calories total (48 of which come from sugar)
  • Fat-Free Chocolate Milk: One serving (16oz.) has 54 grams of sugar (13.5 tsp); 300 calories total (216 of which come from sugar)
  • 100% Vegetable and Fruit Juice: One serving (8 oz.) has 26 grams of sugar (6.5 tsp); 110-120 calories total (104 of which come from sugar)
  • Sports Drink: One bottle (16-20oz.) can have as much as 42 grams of sugar (10.5 tsp); 310 calories total (168 of which come from sugar)
  • Sesame Teriyaki Chicken Frozen Meal: One serving has 15 grams of sugar (3.75 tsp); 380 calories total (60 of which come from sugar)
  • Hard Peanut Butter Granola Bar: One serving (2 bars) has 11 grams of sugar (almost 3 tsp) 190 calories total (48 of which come from sugar)
  • High Protein Bar: One serving (1 bar) has 20 grams of sugar (5 tsp); 270 calories total (80 of which come from sugar)
  • Vanilla Soymilk: One serving (1 cup) has 8 grams of sugar (2 tsp); 100 calories (32 of which come from sugar)

Are you surprised by the amount of sugar that can be found added to typical food items? Often, sugar is added to low-fat foods to make the product taste better, and to give the product a longer shelf life.

Alternative Sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet), and saccharin (Sweet’N Low) which are commonly found in diet sodas and other "diet" products, have been connected with health issues including tinnitus, headaches, nervous system disorders, and certain types of cancer.

Sucralose is known for its claim to be made from sugar. However, it is nothing like sugar. According to the book Sweet Deception by Dr. Joseph Mercola, sucralose is made when sugar is treated with many chemicals including chlorine. The presence of chlorine is thought to be the most dangerous component of sucralose, since chlorine is considered a carcinogen. A more accurate name for the structure of sucralose would be trichlorogalactosucrose. Say that three times!

Splenda is a product that contains sucralose, but that is not all that it contains. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, so very small amounts are needed to achieve the desired sweetness. Because so little sweetener is needed, dextrose and maltodextrin are added to increase the bulk of Splenda. Both of these are carbohydrates and do have calories. Therefore, one cup of Splenda contains 96 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates, which is often unnoticed due to the label claiming that it's a no calorie sweetener.

Alleged symptoms associated with sucralose include gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea), skin irritations (rash, hives, redness, itching, swelling), respiratory irritations, chest pains, palpitations, anxiety, anger, moods swings, depression, and itchy eyes (www.medicinenet.com).

The Aztecs used agave nectar (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) thousands of years ago and praised this syrup as a gift from gods. This is a product of the Agave plant (large, spikey plants that resemble cactus or yuccas, but are actually succulents similar to the familiar Aloe Vera), and tastes similar to honey. It is not low-cal (it has about the same calories as sugar), but it is sweeter, so you need less of it to sweeten food (1/4 cup of Agave would substitute for 1 cup of sugar). Also, use it sparingly because it can be processed in a way that makes it a lot like high fructose corn syrup.

Stevia is a shrub native to Paraguay, now grown in many countries. The steviosides from its leaves (refined extracts) are approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar. The actual Stevia powder or extract sold in the store is 30-40 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has been used commercially in everything from soft drinks to soy sauce in Japan for decades. However, it was not until 2008 that the FDA granted approval for sweeteners made from Stevia extracts. So you may have been seeing this product (as a powder or liquid extract) in the grocery store more recently. It has no calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar. However, it may have a bitter aftertaste if too much is used.

Some name brands that you may have seen include: PureVia and Truvia (made by Whole Earth Sweetener Company/Pepsi and Coke/Cargill, respectively). They are made from stevia and other products like the sweetener erythritol. Avoid the white powder and clear extracts because they have been highly refined and lacking vital phyto-nutrients (Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford).

Finally, all sweeteners have little nutritional value, so use them sparingly. If you crave something sweet, eat something more natural. Fruit or sweet vegetables (like carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips, etc.) are your best bet.

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman