The sugar epidemic: do you know how to properly read a nutrition label?

By Ashley Little || Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of www.bettycrocker.com.

Locking eyes with a candy wrapper after a long day, mouth beginning to water, and then suddenly— an impulsive force commands you to snatch it, reveal the contents and indulge. We have all been there.

It’s conventional knowledge that our bodies depend on food, but few are as explicitly aware that the brain does as well. When we “feed” the brain, it releases neurotransmitters, activating the brain’s reward centers in the form of dopamine. This “food high’s” largest supplier? Sugar.

Masked within nearly all ingredients lists, sugar and its addictive properties have monopolized our diets. Few account for their daily sugar intake, even fewer recognize the foods where sugar hides, and fewer yet know sugar’s disastrous potential.

Sugar, a simple carbohydrate, is vital to energy. Sugars which produce energy and contain vitamins and minerals, however, are a separate entity from the refined sugars in cake, candy and (despite common knowledge) much of what society considers healthy.

You may spot a favorite snack product at the grocery store with the religiously-trusted label “no high fructose corn syrup added,” expel an immediate sigh of relief and reassure yourself that the product must be a healthy option.

Despite the government validation of health on exterior packaging, countless foods contain artificial sweeteners, syrups and oils that consistently appear at the beginning of ingredient lists. These lists place the most prevalent ingredient at the beginning, placing subsequently lesser ingredients in decreasing order.

Given this knowledge, assessing your next granola bar for example, you may notice brown rice syrup and sugar before “rolled oats,” or even as the first ingredients. While the label may detail only six grams of sugar, the ingredient list reveals what you are truly eating: majority artificial sugar and minimal substance.

Granola bars are not the only foods where sugar hides.

Take note of the thirty-two grams of sugar in your Starbucks Matcha Green Tea Latte or the forty-four grams in your Caramel Frappuccino, realizing one drink alone nearly maximizes the recommended daily value of sugar.

Observe the sixty grams of sugar found in your fruit smoothie with a number one ingredient of juice concentrate, despite the “pure fruit” displayed on the label.

After identifying sugar and its value in the human diet, it is essential to understand its effects.

Research in the field of nutrition divulges striking developments regarding sugar consumption. Grounded in biology and history, nutritionists theorize that the human body is not accustomed to artificially produced sugars nor high levels of sugar, attributing sugar to common digestive difficulties and weight gain. Sugar is not only problematic for human digestive systems and its predisposition for overconsumption, but also for its “filler” properties.

Consequently, nutritionists will encourage individuals to eat unprocessed, unrefined fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, meats, fish— products which the label equates with the contents directly, the “whole food” inside. In part, these foods are endorsed for how they maintain feelings of fullness and energy for extended periods of time. Eating a slice of peanut butter toast with a banana as opposed to a bagel with butter could prolong several hours of energy, not to mention the cost and calorie-efficiency.

Despite the benefits of this lifestyle and its opportunity for both limited and naturally-produced sugar intake, it does not always appear achievable. Nonetheless, reducing your indigestion, feeling energized, craving less fat-inducing foods and feeling fuller longer are possible with simple solutions: read ingredients lists, cut the sugar and avoid empty calories.

First-year Ashley Little is a contributing writer. Her email is alittle@fandm.edu.

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