In today’s world, where everything is fast-paced, people tend to rely on packaged foods for convenience. Packaged foods can be a time-saver but can also be full of added sugars. Sugar is one of the most commonly used ingredients in packaged foods. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most harmful. Too much sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to read the sugar labels of packaged foods to make informed decisions about what you’re eating. In this blog, you’ll learn why added sugar in packaged food is bad for your health and how to read sugar labels of packaged foods.
Why Added Sugar is Bad for Health?
Added sugars are sugars added to food during processing or preparation, such as table sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, or other forms of sugar. They do not include naturally occurring sugars in milk, fruits, and vegetables. Added sugar is in almost every food item such as cereals, pasta sauce, crackers, masala mixes, salad dressings, crackers, yogurt, bread, and many other packaged foods.
Debbie Krivitsky, a registered dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, says that added sugars can lead to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this year showed that a diet heavy in added sugar is linked to a risk of heart disease, even if you’re not overweight.
Added sugar gets digested immediately and absorbed rapidly, which causes a spike in your blood sugar levels. In turn, it challenges your pancreas to pump out more insulin. If the pancreas can’t keep up with that demand, blood sugar levels rise, leading to more problems with insulin secretion and, ultimately, diabetes. Sugar also raises inflammation throughout the body, increases triglycerides (fat type found in the blood), and boosts dopamine levels in the brain.
How to Read Sugar Labels of Packaged Foods?
Let’s see how to keep check on our sugar consumptions by reading sugar labels of packaged foods:
1. Check the Serving Size
The first step is to check the serving size. The nutrition information on the label is based on the serving size, so make sure you know how much you’re eating. If you eat more than the serving size, you’ll be consuming more sugar than what’s listed on the label. It is particularly important when it comes to packaged foods that are often marketed as “single-serving” but actually contain multiple servings. For example, a bag of chips may contain two or three servings, and if you eat the entire bag, you’ll be consuming two or three times the amount of sugar listed on the label.
2. Look for Added Sugars
Added sugars are the sugars that are added during food processing. They’re different from naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and milk. Added sugars include high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, fructose, and maltose. Look for these ingredients on the label, and avoid foods with high amounts of added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. However, many people consume much more than this, with some estimates suggesting that the average American consumes around 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
3. Check the Total Sugar Content
The total sugar content includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. It’s important to note that even foods with no added sugars can still be high in sugar. For example, a serving of fruit juice can contain up to 20 grams of sugar, even though it has no added sugars. To better understand how much sugar a food contains, look at the “total sugars” line on the label. Foods that contain more than 15 grams of sugar per serving are considered high in sugar, while foods that contain less than 5 grams of sugar per serving are considered low in sugar.
4. Check the % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much of the recommended daily sugar intake a serving of food provides. Aim for foods with less than 10% of the DV for sugar per serving. For example, if the DV for sugar is 50 grams daily, a food that provides 5% of the DV per serving would contain 2.5 grams or less. The % DV can be valuable for comparing the sugar content of different foods. However, it’s important to remember that the DV is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, which may not be appropriate for everyone. If you’re trying to lose weight or have other dietary restrictions, you may need to adjust the % DV accordingly.
5. Look for Sugar Alternatives
If you want to reduce your sugar intake, consider using sugar alternatives. Stevia sweeteners, like Stevi0cal, are a great alternative to traditional sugar. They’re calorie-free, have a low glycemic index, and are safe for people with diabetes and other health conditions. Stevi0cal is made from the natural source stevia, derived from the stevia plant leaves. If you packaged food contains stevia or similar natural sugar substitute then it’s a healthier choice for your intake.
6. Read the Ingredient List
The ingredient list is great to determine the product’s source of sugars. If sugar is listed as one of the first few ingredients, the product contains a high amount of sugar. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the ingredients at the beginning of the list make up the bulk of the product. Look for products that list whole foods like fruit, nuts, and seeds, as these foods contain natural sugars and are usually healthier than those that list added sugars.
7. Pay Attention to the Types of Sugars
Not all sugars are created equal. Some types of sugars, like fructose, are more harmful than others. Fructose, for example, is metabolized by the liver and can cause insulin resistance, leading to diabetes and other health problems. Other sugars, like glucose, are essential for the body to function correctly. When reading the sugar label, consider the types of sugars listed. Avoid products that contain high amounts of fructose and opt for those that contain natural sugars like glucose and sucrose.
8. Consider the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems. When choosing packaged foods, consider the GI of the product. Foods with a low GI, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are usually healthier options than foods with a high GI, like processed snacks and sugary drinks.
In conclusion, reading the sugar labels of packaged foods is essential to making informed eating decisions. By checking the serving size, looking for added sugars, checking the total sugar content, checking the % DV, looking for sugar alternatives, reading the ingredient list, paying attention to the types of sugars, and considering the glycemic index, you can choose healthier packaged foods that won’t harm your health. Remember that small changes in your diet can make a big difference in your overall health and well-being.