Food for Thought: How sweet it is!

By Nancy Schuster, Frontier District Extension Agent

In 1955 a popular television show was The Honeymooners starring Jackie Gleason. Thirty-nine classic episodes of The Honeymooners are on film if you need to refresh your memory. I remember Jackie Gleason for his famous quote, “How sweet it is!” Americans have always had a love affair with sugar.

foodforthoughtIf a person drinks only one can of soda a day for one year, the amount of sugar consumed is 65 pounds! Can you visualize over 16 four-pound bags of sugar stacked up? Add to this the amount of sugar commonly consumed from other food sources and the amount is staggering.

There are two types of sugars in foods – naturally occurring sugar found in fruits (fructose) and dairy foods (lactose), and added sugars. Added sugars are any sugar added to food during the preparation or processing of a food. Naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and dairy foods come with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that our bodies need.

The major sources of added sugars in American diets are regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks (fruitades and fruit punch), dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk), and other grain foods (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles).

Sugars are carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates found in processed, refined or added sugars that do not contain any nutritional value include candy, regular carbonated beverages, syrups and table sugar. Simple carbohydrates, sugars, are often called empty calories because they offer little to no nutrients. Complex carbohydrates come with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients are often referred to as “starchy” foods; these include: legumes, starchy vegetables, whole-grains and fiber.

Added sugars can be a little hard to find on food labels. Current food labels list the total grams of sugar which also includes sugar from fruits and dairy foods. New proposed nutrition labeling would list added sugars  on the nutrition label so consumers can identify them and make good decisions about their food purchases.

The following words identify sugar on an ingredient label: sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, levulose, anhydrous dextrose, syrup, raw sugar, turbinado, granulated sugar, brown rice syrup, maple sugar, brown sugar, molasses, milk sugar, malt syrup, honey, invert sugar corn syrup, liquid sugar, corn syrup solids, maple syrup, nectars, pancake syrup, fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, fruit nectar, confectioner’s powdered sugar, evaporated cane juice, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, crystal dextrose, evaporated corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, liquid fructose, and sugar cane juice.

Consumers often think honey is healthier than sugar. Honey actually contains the same basic sugar units as table sugar – both contain glucose and fructose. Caloric content of honey differs from that of table sugar. One teaspoon of table sugar contains 16 calories, while one teaspoon of honey has 22 calories. Researchers are currently looking into antioxidant levels of honey to see if they also can improve one’s health.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 calories per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men).

Discretionary calories for children depend on the psychical development age of the child. Children 2-8 years have about 60 empty calories available for sugary foods. Children ages 9-13 years have about 80 empty calories available for sugary foods. Children ages 14-18 years have about 130 empty calories for sugary foods. Keep in mind that the average brownie measuring 2 inches square has 128 calories.


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].

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