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Beware Empty Promises in "Natural Sugar" Ads

Beware Empty Promises in "Natural Sugar" Ads

You've probably seen those "made with real sugar" ads on TV and heard about food makers replacing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with "real sugar" in everything from ketchup to crackers. The truth is added sugar has no redeeming social value!

Food manufacturers want you to think that "real" or "natural" sugar is sweeter for your health. Don't fall for it. All added sugars and syrups pump your body full of empty calories, send your blood sugar soaring, and gum up proteins in ways that load your arteries with lousy LDL cholesterol. (Hello, heart attack and stroke.) High blood sugar levels also increase blood fats called triglycerides, which threaten your ticker, skin, and sex life. (Discover the best foods to boost your energy.)

Americans gobble an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugars each day. That's two to three times what your body can handle. The American Heart Association wants women to top out at 6 to 7 teaspoons a day; men, at 10. Whether added sugars come from table sugar, organic brown sugar, or raspberry syrup, they subtract from your health. Here's a smart goal: zero added sugars in your diet, and blood sugar below 110. Anything higher ages your arteries, which ultimately ages every part of you.

Although the small amount of fructose in an apple or mango is fine because fruit's fiber slows down fructose's absorption (so your blood sugar doesn't skyrocket), the large amounts in sodas, candy, desserts, and candy-topped yogurt aren't. Here's what they do to your heart, bloodstream, and belt size:

  • Added sugars spell double trouble for your waistline. First, there are the extra calories. Second, a big hit of fructose in added sugar makes you overeat by revving up ghrelin, your body's "I'm hungry" hormone.
  • Added sugars invite diabetes. Why? Excess fructose drives up blood sugar levels by indirectly telling muscle cells to resist insulin's orders to absorb blood sugar.
  • Added sugars raise your blood pressure. Downing lots of added sugars doubles your risk for hypertension. The systolic (top) blood pressure numbers for people in one test who consumed the fructose in just 2½ sodas a day were as high as 160. You (and your heart) want that number to be 115!

Sleuthing for Hidden Sugars
Added sugars aren't just where you'd expect to see 'em (e.g., sodas, desserts, candy). They also hide in deli meats, ketchup, salad dressing, soups, bagels, crackers, cereals, and even some baby foods. Watch out for these food-industry tricks:

  • Disguised names: In addition to "sugar," check the ingredient list for these: corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS), other syrups, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, cane juice, and anything ending in -ose (e.g., dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).
  • Multiples: Food makers are splitting up the sweeteners, so you may not spot 'em till you're halfway down the ingredients list. Keep reading, and look for more than one.
  • "Natural" and "organic" sweeteners: Unrefined brown sugar, unrefined dehydrated cane juice, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt, rice syrup, and agave are added sugars. A few of these have a smidgeon of other nutrients, but not enough to compensate for the damage sugar does to your body.

The Truth About Agave Syrup vs. Sugar

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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