Sugar: What’s The Big Deal?

By: Cassidy Hobbs
Johnston County Family and Consumer Science Agent
NC Cooperative Extension Service

Growing up, your mom probably told you not to eat too much candy because you would develop cavities. Oral health is not the only reason to watch your sugar intake!

Added sugars are flavor enhancers that add extra calories to the foods you eat. Added sugar offers no nutritional benefit and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Sugar can be a hard habit to quit due to its effect on the brain. Dopamine, a “feel good” chemical, gets released by the brain when we consume sugar which makes it “addictive.”

Additionally, sugar can cause inflammation which can contribute to joint pain. Sugar has effects on your heart and blood stream as well. Over time, added sugar can stress the heart and artery walls causing damage. This can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men per day. You can find nutrition labels on almost all store-bought products which contain calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar content found per serving in the product you are consuming. When examining a nutrition label, you will find the sugar content of the product listed in grams, not teaspoons. As a rule, there are 4 grams of sugar for every 1 teaspoon of sugar. Using this conversion, women should consume no more than 24 grams of sugar per day, and men should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar per day.

Most people know that soft drinks, sweetened coffees, and teas contain large amounts of added sugars, but sugar can hide in foods you might not expect. Tomato products, sauces, dressings, and cereal bars are common sources of hidden sugars. Sugar can also be hidden within the ingredients under names such as “sucrose,” “high fructose corn syrup,” and “dextrose” to name a few. As a general rule, if the word contains the suffix “-ose,” it is a sugar.

Be sure to read the label! Now that you know a little more about added sugars and what to watch out for, I have a recipe to share with you. Perhaps you want to monitor or reduce your added sugar intake or maybe you want to share a low-sugar recipe with a diabetic loved one.

These Hawaiian Pork Tacos contain only 3 grams of sugar, 6 grams of fat, 270 calories per serving, and are approved by the American Diabetes Association.

For more health and wellness tips, email Cassidy Hobbs at Cassidy is the Family and Consumer Science Agent at the N.C. Cooperative Extension serving Johnston and Wilson Counties. You may also reach Cassidy by calling the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office, Johnston County Center at 919-989-5380.