Call them dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, plain old fructose, fruit juice concentrate, malt syrup or a half-dozen other names. By any name, these added sugars are sweet, popular, widely consumed and, as of last week, on the list of ingredients that the World Health Organization (WHO) says may be helping to fuel the worldwide obesity epidemic.
To help reverse that trend, the WHO recommended that added sugars be limited to 10 percent of total calories -- about the level that the average American consumed 30 years ago. This means that on an intake of 2,000 calories per day, roughly 200 could come from the added sugars that are found in soft drinks, fruit beverages, jams, fruited yogurt, candy, cookies, cakes, cereal and many other products.
Limiting added sugars is a drumbeat that's building in the nutrition community. Last year, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) suggested that added sugars not exceed 25 percent of total calories.(The NAS concluded that foods with added sugars often replace those that are more nutritious.) On a 2,000-calorie intake, the NAS suggestion works out to about 50 grams of added sugars daily.
Figuring out how much added sugars may be in a food or beverage is not always easy, however, since labeling rules don't require them to be listed separately -- something that some consumer groups are lobbying to change.
In the meantime, here is what nutrition experts -- and expert groups, including WHO, NAS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- recommend to keep control of added sugars:
* Get your sweet fix from nature. That means eating plenty of fruit. Yes, there is fructose in fruit, but it's found in much lower levels than that found in high-fructose corn syrup. [For more information on that point, see Page F1.] Plus, the fructose in fruit comes packaged with vitamins, minerals, fiber and a host of health-promoting phytonutrients. Canned fruit in its own juice is also a good choice. Canned fruit in syrup, however, comes with added sugars. Frozen fruit (without added sugars) is another good option. Dried fruit by itself is okay, but varieties coated with sugar -- pineapple is a good example -- need to be counted toward the total of added sugars. Ditto for many fruit-based drinks. An eight-ounce glass of Minute Maid Premium Chilled Lemonade has about 29 grams of sugars and most of them come from high-fructose corn syrup. (Frozen concentrate is similar.)
* Read the nutrition label. Added sugars appear on food labels as the following ingredients: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar and table sugar. If these ingredients appear first or second on a label's list of ingredients, the product is likely to be high in added sugars, according to the USDA. Soft drinks, cookies, candy, cake, pies and ice cream are the major sources of added sugars in the United States, the USDA says.
* Don't sweat the sugar in unsweetened dairy products. That's because it comes from lactose, the naturally occuring sugar that is found in milk, cheese and yogurt. But read the fine print on commercially prepared yogurt with fruit. An eight-ounce serving of Dannon blueberry yogurt (with fruit on the bottom) has 36 grams of sugar -- about 19 of those from added sugars. A less sugary choice: eight ounces of plain Dannon (with 17 grams of natural sugars) plus a half-cup of fresh or frozen blueberries, which will provide no added sugar.
MAKE THE MOVE CHALLENGE
Sixty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking, is what the WHO recommended last week for daily physical activity. That's a good goal, but a bit beyond the Make the Move Challenge, now entering its sixth week. (Learn more at www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub). This week, boost those two-minute walks to six a day on most days -- or a total of 12 minutes of walking if you want to do it all at once -- and try walking or biking to two errands this week.
-- Sally Squires