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There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of sugar and a long list of medical problems associated with excess sugar consumption; but how do we know how to decipher the code on our favorite foods when large food manufacturers use slick marketing which is designed to hide the sugar content with ambiguous description and words. I’ve got three simple steps you can follow when it comes to determining whether there’s added sugar in your food:
1. Ignore all front-label marketing claims, like “natural,” “part of a balanced diet,” and even “no added sugar.” These claims are almost always misleading. Neither can you depend on the red, green, and yellow labeling on some packaged foods. I’m afraid the “organic” label has very little to do with whether or not a product has too much sugar, natural or added.
2. Take a look at the Nutrition Facts label, specifically the categories “Total Carbohydrates” and “Sugars.” If the total sugar content is over 22.5 grams per 100 grams, the food is high in sugar; if it’s below 5 grams per 100 grams, then the food is low in sugar. Another good rule of thumb is that if a food has no added sugar, no saturated fat, and offers protein, then the food is acceptable. But if a food has more added sugar and/or saturated fat than protein, then the food has too much sugar. It also follows that if a food has more sugar than protein, the food still has more negative than positive benefits. And, if a food has more than five grams of added sugar, it’s not worth the calories. Also, if a food has more than five grams of saturated fat it’s also not worth the calories either.
3. Check out the ingredients list. Look for the obvious words like “sugar,” “cane,” “sweetener,” and “syrup,” as well as anything ending in “–ose.” These are obvious signs of added sugars, with the exception of “lactose,” which is a naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. If you find one of these hot words, the product goes back on the shelf.
Following these steps for reading labels will give you a pretty good idea when a product has added sugar and should be avoided. But sometimes even naturally occurring sugar gets out of hand, so before we move on entirely from labeling, I want to address one of the biggest mistakes people make when reading labels and trying to avoid sugar: assuming that organic food is automatically healthy. The sad part is that if you’re buying something organic, you’re really trying to do what’s best for your family! You deserve results for your effort, so I’m going to remind you to watch out for sugar, even when it’s organic and naturally occurring. Think about the last time you actually read a nutritional label on foods you buy on a consistent basis either for you or your family. Do you think you would be shocked by how much sugar is in those foods? If they contained excess sugar you were not aware of, would it motivate you to give up these foods?
I challenge you to try this exercise: Write down five to seven packaged food items you buy on a regular basis and the sugar content of those items per serving. Based on those answers and the rule of thumb outlined above concerning food being acceptable or unacceptable in relation to its sugar content, check to see whether these items fit into the acceptable or unacceptable category, and then decide whether you will continue to buy them.