By now, almost everyone knows that there’s a whole lot of sugar in soda (not to mention those so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks). Sugar is also a major ingredient in many desserts, breakfast cereals, jellies and fruit preserves. But did you know that there’s also an enormous amount of added sugar lurking in foods you might never suspect — like pasta sauces, salad dressings, canned soups and yogurts?
If you didn’t realize how many foods you consume every day have high levels of added sugar, you aren’t entirely to blame: Up to now, the amount of sugar added to packaged foods wasn’t disclosed on the label. But with the Food and Drug Administration’s new requirements for nutrition labeling, which are set to take effect in 2018, that’s all changing. Along with some familiar information about calories, fat and cholesterol, a new line on the “Nutrition Facts” label will clearly spell out the amount of added sugar — and those figures may come as a surprise to many.
For example, while plain yogurt naturally contains a modest amount of sugar, varieties with added fruit, syrup or crunchy toppings can end up having more total sugar than a Twinkie! Many popular pasta sauces contain about 12 grams (3 teaspoons) of sugar in a half-cup serving: That’s about the same as in a Pop-Tart… and who eats spaghetti with just half a cup of sauce? And if you thought those “fat-free” salad dressings were a healthy choice — consider the fact that some contain 8 grams (2 teaspoons) of added sugar in a 2-tablespoon serving.
Sugar itself isn’t the enemy — but consuming too much added sugar is bad for you in many ways. It contributes to an unhealthy level of triglycerides in the blood, which can affect cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. It’s blamed for a rise in obesity levels in both children and adults, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. And last but not least, it’s food for the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has been a vocal advocate for examining the affect of added sugar on people’s oral (and general) health. The organization’s president, Dr. Carol Gomez Summerhays, recently applauded the FDA “for giving consumers another tool to make informed decisions about their added sugars intake.”