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In this new year, is it really possible to eliminate “hidden sugar”?

Earlier this year, I had a goal to reduce my sugar intake. This doesn’t seem like a big feat since I’m not a dessert lover. Sure, I like the occasional scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt, but I’ve never been a big cake, pie, cookie, or brownie type of guy. I also have a pure distaste for “sweet” salty food. I want my savory food to be deeply rich and, well… flavorful, without any stray sweet undertones.

Unfortunately, if you mix some form of dairy with some sort of sweetener or flavoring and a few shots of espresso, you’ve got me. Between coffee drinks and Mountain Dew, in all its neon green effervescent glory, I love sugary drinks, but even these indulgences are relatively easy to curb.

However, where things get trickier is not in cutting out sodas, candies, cookies and chocolates, but when there is an overabundance of sugar in places you might not expect. not be, like your salad dressing or your protein shake. These are now known as the somewhat more worrying “added sugars” or “hidden sugars,” and everyone from Harvard Health to Johns Hopkins has issued warnings about their ubiquity. But in our current food system, where Americans increasingly consume ultra-processed foods, is it possible to truly avoid them?

“They’re only ‘hidden’ if you don’t know what to look for,” said Jessica Sylvester, a clinical dietitian, nutrition practice owner and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Added sugars are simply defined as any added sugar in addition to natural or present sugars, such as those found in fruit. The sugar typically added is intended to “enhance flavor, texture, shelf life or other properties,” according to Nichole Dandrea-Russert, registered dietitian and author of “The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook.”

“They’re only ‘hidden’ if you don’t know what to look for.”

Dandrea-Russert warns that some products are marketed as “healthy,” but they actually aren’t healthy at all: They just claim to be healthy because they’re not made with traditional sugar. Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, actually notes that there are 62 different names for sugar, from agave and malt syrup to dextrose and barley malt. Also keep an eye out for sugars that end in “-ose,” like fructose or dextrose, as well as syrups, cane juice, or fruit juice concentrate (“because,” as Dandrea-Russert said , “it’s condensed and not in whole fruit form, it’s considered added sugar”).

According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar per day and women should limit their intake to 25 grams — but in a world of added and hidden sugars, that threshold can be reached relatively quickly. Maybe you go to town and consume a certain product every day that you mistakenly think is “healthy” and it actually increases your sugar intake exponentially.

For example, Malkoff-Cohen uses a specific example of Greek yogurt: a plain carton may contain three total sugars with no added sugars, while a carton of flavored yogurt contains 11 total sugars, with 7 grams of added sugars. There’s clearly a drastic difference, and the key to understanding it is on the pesky nutrition label.

It can be tempting to avoid nutrition labels, but Malkhoff-Cohen recommends consumers become “label detectives” to avoid these secretly sugary items or products, especially if you’re looking to prioritize your health at home. during the new year.

In addition to yogurt, Dandrea-Russert names salad dressings as a big culprit when it comes to hidden sugars, while Malkhoff-Cohen lists other common offenders: pasta sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, cereal, coleslaw and dried fruits. Beverages, including soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, are often high in added sugars. Dandrea-Russert also specifically mentions chocolate milk, which can “contain up to 12 grams of extra sugar, making it 24 grams of sugar for just one cup of chocolate milk.”

So where do you start if you want to start cutting out added and hidden sugars from your diet? Malkoff-Cohen offers some simple suggestions. The first is to prioritize foods delivered without packaging, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, because they do not contain added sugars intended to extend shelf life. She also advises “eating the real thing” when it comes to sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, but in smaller portions. She also claims that in many cases, artificial sweeteners may actually be even more of a concern than “real sugar”; From aspartame to acesulfame potassium and sucralose, all of these seemingly “better-for-you” alternatives may actually lead to a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

Worried about how your body (and taste buds) will react to the changes? Well, did you know that our taste buds change every week? Sylvester says that “the way we perceive flavors is affected by the foods we are accustomed to eating and any changes in our palate”, referring to the fact that if you were to legitimately cut out all sugars and artificial sweeteners, you would be overwhelmed by how naturally in fact many sugary foods are all on their own.

She challenges consumers to test it for themselves – cut out all sugars and artificial sweeteners for two weeks and notice your tastes, behavior and physiological changes – you might be hit by the shocking saccharin in some foods, drinks and “diet” candy. (often due to the fact that most artificial sweeteners are generally much “sweeter,” as Sylvester puts it, than sugar.)

Dandrea-Russert agrees that it is entirely possible to eliminate all added sugars from your diet and that gradually “you can minimize and eventually eliminate added sugars from your diet.” » Use whole foods, fruits, date paste, make your own salad dressings and soon Enough, your “taste buds will slowly acclimatize to less sweetness.”

Although it can be tedious to identify these infamous sugars, it is certainly both tenable and possible. It might just require a little more vigilance and research when deciding what to eat for dinner or what to have for a snack.

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