THE BLOG
12/23/2014 04:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sugars: Become an Expert Sugar Detective

The media has been full of articles about the massive amount of sugar that children and adults are consuming. Most of this added sugar consumed comes from sweetened beverages -- soft drinks, energy drinks, bottled green tea and ice tea, sweetened bottled water, and water with added vitamins. Special coffee drinks such as lattes, iced cappuccinos are full of sugar.

Shocking Amounts of Sugar

The American Heart Association (in a survey conducted between 2001-2004 -- Added Sugar in the Diet) concluded that on average, Americans were consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar per day.  I suspect that it is much higher today. A more recent report by Statistics Canada (2011) -- Sugar Consumption among Canadian of all ages, concluded that adults and teenagers consume on average 26 teaspoons per day.

In a recent YouTube video, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," by Robert Lustig, M.D., reinforces our understanding of the toxicity of added sugars in our diets. The recent documentary film Fed Up is a must-see film about the food industry and the sugar in our foods.

All this excess sugar is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, which, as you know, is a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease and various cancers.

Be Mindful, Read Labels, and Pay Attention to Sugars
Interpreting food labels is not always easy, but one simple tool will suddenly make grams of sugar more meaningful and will probably shock you.

The simple tool:  4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar

Beverages

How much sugar in that soft drink or soda?

Here is the nutrition facts label from a 591 ml (20 fl oz U.S.) bottle of cola. Let's calculate the number of teaspoons of sugar in this popular drink.

Imagine putting 17.5 teaspoons of sugar on a bowl of cereal or in your tea or coffee. The thought is enough to make anyone feel nauseated, but this is the amount of sugar that you consume when you quench your thirst with a bottle 591 ml (20 fl oz ) of cola.

Soda and Pop

Other soft drink varieties may vary in terms of sugar content. I found a 591 ml (20 fl oz U.S.) bottle of ginger ale that contains 54 grams of sugar per bottle.

Now imagine yourself drinking 13.5 teaspoons of sugar!

Also, look at the serving size on the Nutritional Facts label and sometimes, the serving size is only for example 250 ml (8 fl oz) of a 591 ml (20 fl oz) soft drink bottle. The sugar in grams in this example is 27 gm, which sounds like only about 7 teaspoons of sugar (27 divided by 4), but the whole bottle really has almost 17 teaspoons of sugar. So be mindful of labeling tricks to fool you.

Beware of soft drinks, sodas, at restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters.

Bottled Tea
Tea has many health benefits, green tea has many antioxidants. Commercially-available green teas however can be a real sugar trap. Let's take a look a bottle of green tea, made with "natural lemon flavor."

Bottled Water with Vitamins
Even water with added vitamins, the beverage industry's latest marketing innovation, has an unconscionable amount of sugar.

Many people have been lead by the beverage industry to believe that this beverage is very healthy, so they consume two or three bottles a day of this water with added vitamins. They are really consuming 16-24 teaspoons of sugar per day, and on a weekly basis, 112 to 168 teaspoons of sugar per week.

My advice is to stay clear of water with anything added to it. Choose ordinary water and get your vitamins from fresh produce. Consider flavoring your water with slices of lemon, lime or oranges instead. Leave it overnight in the refrigerator for a refreshing drink to enjoy all day long.

Sports Drinks
Sports drinks were first developed for professional college football players. They are intended for those participating in endurance sports like long distance running, football, soccer, prolonged cycling, long distance power walking etc, as well as prolonged exercise in hot weather. These sports drinks are very high in sugar and electrolytes. This makes them effective in rehydrating your body, but they are not advisable at all, as a everyday beverage, due to their sugar content.

Here is an example of one popular sports drink and its sugar content.

Fruit Juice
Juice most often lacks fiber, includes too much sugar, and undermines you eating real fruit. Even juice made with 100 percent fruit, and no added sweeteners, should be avoided. It takes about eight oranges to make 473 mls (16 fl oz) of orange juice. This is more than I suggest for your daily fruit budget (four portions of fruit per day), and you are giving the body a very large sugar load (eight orange equivalents) all at once. You also miss out on fiber that you get from real fruit.

"Eat real fruit, not as a juice."

What About Smoothies?
With all the important about beverages, can smoothies be considered healthy? The fruit and fiber are good for you, right? Well here again, you have to be a cautious consumer. Some commercially-available products are not made with whole fruit.  In fact, these should be avoided completely due to their sizable amounts of sugar.

Even products made with fresh fruit are problematic. The quantity of fruit they incorporate (6-12 pieces) can send you way over your daily limit of four fruit portions as recommended on the HEALTH FIRST program.  I observed one commercially-available smoothie that contained 2.5 mangoes, 15 cherries and 1.5 apples in a 15 fl oz bottle.  Way too much fruit.

If you wish to enjoy a smoothie, make it yourself, with a maximum of the four fruit portions in the daily fruit budget, and low fat, plain yogurt. Unfortunately, you will lose out on using fruit strategically throughout the rest of the day for snacks. However, once in awhile this make your own smoothie can be a wholesome option.

I encourage you to become a sugar detective today and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.