Sugar, Not as Sweet as You Think

We'll discuss how much sugar is recommended, how much the average person gets, and where the sugar is coming from.
Sugar, Not as Sweet as You Think
Featured Speaker:
Andrea Wagner, MS, RDN, CD
I received my Bachelors in Dietetics from UW-Stevens Point and my Masters in Applied Nutrition from Northeastern University.  I have been a Dietitian for over 6 years, working as a clinical Dietitian for 5 of them.  I am not only a Dietitian, but a wife, mom, and dog mom.  In my spare time I love to create healthier versions of common recipes, read about areas of nutrition I am not as familiar with, and have family game night with my kids.  I often speak about nutrition through community events, local News Broadcasts, articles in news papers, and more.  I believe every life can be changed through good nutrition, and it's a mission of mine to help as many people as possible learn about good nutrition.

Bill Klaproth (Host): Welcome to Aspirus Health Talk. I'm Bill Klaproth. Today, we're discussing sugar. Yes, it's not as sweet as you think. In fact, it's not very good for our health. So, let's talk about that with Andrea Wagner, Clinical Nutrition Supervisor at Aspirus. Andrea, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it. So, we hear all the time about how sugar is not good for us. So, first off, why is sugar bad for our health?

Andrea Wagner, MS, RDN, CD (Guest): Excellent question. So, unfortunately sugar does a lot of bad things to our body. Not only does added sugar increase our risk for diabetes, increase our risk for heart disease, increase our risk for high blood pressure, but also added sugar is a piece that increases our triglycerides, which then increases our overall cholesterol. We're always talking about limiting it because we want to limit all of these risk factors.

Host: Yeah, these are dangerous risk factors, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes. These are things that sugar can have a direct negative effect on. So, you really want to limit your sugar intake. So, speaking of that, how much sugar should we have each day?

Andrea: Well the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans just recently came out last December and the recommendation in there is for less than 10 percent of your total calories to come from added sugars. So, if you want to break that down, a person who might eat 12,000 calories in a day, that breaks it down to about 200 calories. And then to break it down one further, that would be less than 50 grams of added sugar per day. And I like to talk about it in grams because when you look at your food label if you're going to start looking at your food label, it's going to be listed as at a gram of sugar in grams So, that's what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends. However the American Heart Association does take it one step further and they recommend for optimal heart health, that a woman should have no more than 25 grams of added sugar. And a man should have no more than 36 grams of added sugar.

Bill Klaproth (Host): So, how do we count grams?

Andrea: So, when you look at food labels, it will have a breakdown of not just total sugars but how much of that total sugar was added sugar. Because some foods will have a natural sugar in them. And we're not worried about those natural sugars are worried well that added sugar and it'll break it down and say added sugar. And how many grams are in that serving size. And so looking at the products that you eat throughout the day you would be able to add up how many grams of added sugar you are getting from those products.

Host: Okay. Really important. So, when you're looking at the label, look for added sugar and then as you eat throughout the day, look at that label. And then you can add that up. What about fruits and vegetables and other things that have sugar. We're not worried about food items that just have natural sugars in it. It's the added sugars that we're worried about?

Andrea: Correct. Those natural sugars do not do the same thing to our body is that added sugar does. So, the natural sugars, eat them, enjoy your fruit and enjoy those foods. It's the added sugars that we really need to keep an eye on.

Host: Okay this is really, really informative. And then how much do we overdo it? How much sugar are we actually eating each day?,

Andrea: So, the average American right now is eating about 77 grams of added sugar per day. If you think about those American Heart Association recommendations, the average person needs to cut it in half just to start meeting. Well actually women need to cut it in two thirds just to get to those recommendations.

Host: Wow. All right. So, let me ask you this. These added sugars are primarily found in fast foods, sweetened coffees, candies, cakes, cookies, packaged goods. Is that right?

Andrea: Yes. Pretty much anything that's not considered a whole food. Any food that's been touched, processed, done something to it, more than likely it has added sugar in it.

Host: Okay. So, what are some foods where sugar is hidden? Things that we wouldn't think about or know about.

Andrea: Some real common ones are foods, I should say that people often eat like spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup. A lot of those products that are not sweet necessarily actually have a lot of added sugar in them, but they just also have other spices and salt to make them not taste sweet with that added sugar in them.

Host: Oh, you're killing me, Andrea. Come on.

Andrea: Another one I wanted to add was yogurt and applesauce. I know a lot of moms out there are going to want to give their kids yogurt and applesauce and think I'm giving my kids a healthy option. I'm giving them healthy foods. But unfortunately if you're not reading those labels, a lot of applesauces have added sugar. And a lot of yogurts have added sugar. In fact, your average yogurt has 13 grams of added sugar in it. For a woman that's half your daily intake right there.

Host: Wow. And I'm thinking about kids and juice boxes and things like that. Even adults, orange juices and other juices probably have those added sugars?

Andrea: Yes. Some of them do not. You can find 100 percent juice which it won't have any added sugar. But most of them do have the added sugar.

Host: So, we really need to be cognizant of our diet and what we're eating and really kind of almost keep a diary. Okay I'm having this, I'm having this. Every morning I have a big glass of orange juice. Every morning I have jelly if you will on a piece of toast. I would imagine jelly has added sugar in it. Salsa and chips at night. So, you really need to keep track of what you're eating every day to really understand how much added sugar you're getting. Is that right?

Andrea: Absolutely. Although I want to point out that once you start keeping track, you'll be able to find those places where you can reduce it. So, for example you might read your labels on your yogurt and find one without added sugar and then you kind of have your go-to and you can still eat your yogurt. But now you have your go-to without added sugar or the same thing with spaghetti sauce or salsa. There are some out there. It's just not the majority. So, reading your labels and finding those ones that work for you and just don't have added sugar is really the key.

Host: That's a great tip. Any other tips to help us reduce our sugar intake?

Andrea: Whenever you can choose a whole food option because again when it's been processed, touched, something's been done to it, they're going to add sugar. So, if you can find whole food options as much as possible. So, instead of the applesauce if you can't find a no added sugar applesauce, just eat an apple or is there the orange juice eat an orange. So, whenever you can find that whole food option, you know you're doing a good choice added sugar.

Host: Okay look for the whole food option. And that seems like the easiest way to think about this is just look for that option instead of the easy to find food item that's in a package right? Go for the whole food option.

Andrea, thank you so much for your time. Any final thoughts on sugar that you want to leave us with?

Andrea: I think my final thought would be don't feel like you have to change your life in one day. A lot of people might look at their diet and be like, oh well at breakfast I had added sugar, at lunch, at dinner, at my snack. Pick one meal, pick one food item, make one change and a week or two later once you're used to that change, then go for another change and slowly make those changes so that it's sustainable and you can do it for life.

Host: Okay, so incremental changes make it a lot more sustainable. If you try to cut it all out at once it'll be a lot more difficult then. Is that right?

Andrea: Absolutely.

Host: Great tips. Well this is wonderful and we all need to do this because we don't want heart disease. We don't want high blood pressure. We don't want diabetes and we don't want the added pounds that come with the added sugar. That's another thing. Andrea thank you so much. This has really been informative and we appreciate your time today. Thank you again.

Andrea: Thank you.

Host: That's Andrea Wagner. And thank you so much for listening to this episode of Aspirus Health Talk. To learn more, call (715) 421-7409 or email for additional information. And please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast and all the other Aspirus podcasts. And for more health tips and updates, follow us on your social channels. Thanks for listening.