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Sharp Health News

Hidden sugar: what’s the impact on your health?

Sept. 6, 2016

Hidden sugar's impact on your health

There are many different kinds of sugar. Some foods, such as fruit and milk, have naturally occurring sugars. These foods shouldn’t be that much of a concern because they have many nourishing qualities that boost our health. For example, fruit has antioxidants and fiber, which are good for our hearts, whereas milk offers protein and calcium that are great for our muscles and bones.

On the other hand, certain sugars that are added into foods during preparation or processing, or at the dining table, are worrisome if eaten in excess. This includes the sugars that manufacturers add — maltose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener and fruit juice concentrates — as well as sugars people put in their own meals and beverages, such as raw sugar, maple syrup and honey.

Frequently eating foods high in added sugar in greater quantity and frequency can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, which can result in heart problems and diabetes.

Some common foods that you may not expect to be high in added sugar are protein bars, granola bars, flavored yogurt and frozen entree meals; however, you don’t have to avoid these foods completely. Instead, find out what other similar foods you might enjoy that would provide more nourishment, like trail mix, which contains nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, or plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries. For a ready-made, to-go meal that is easy to prepare, buy grilled chicken strips, brown rice and frozen stir-fry veggies, and flavor with spices, olive oil and lemon juice.

The American Heart Association recommends the following sugar guidelines:  

  • Women should limit their intake to no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day 
  • Men should limit to no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines released by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recommend limiting our total daily consumption of added sugars to less than 10 percent of our allotted daily calories. That would be about 9 to 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day depending on your body’s caloric needs.

Although I don’t believe in completely avoiding any particular food or counting the amount of sugar in every meal or snack, the bottom line is moderating intake of added sugar improves well-being. The key here is to apply mindfulness to these recommendations.

Generally, we feel much better about ourselves when we take good care of our bodies. One way to do this is by eating a nourishing diet filled primarily with fresh foods. This certainly doesn’t mean we have to eat perfectly, as that generally leads to diet-induced stress. Focusing on eating fewer processed foods, and more fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains, is a great way to feel positive, both physically and mentally.

One of my favorite things to help clients understand is that our health, in terms of eating, is made up of what we do most of the time. If enjoying dessert is a small percentage of your overall nourishing diet, then don’t sweat it.

Learn more about the Sharp Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, which provides one-on-one nutrition counseling with registered dietitians at three convenient locations throughout San Diego County. 

For the media: To talk with a Sharp registered dietitian about hidden sugar, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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