Halloween is just a few weeks away, and candy can be found on supermarket shelves everywhere.
Candy in addition to many other snack foods and beverages is sugar-laden. Sugars can be either added to foods or naturally present in foods.
Dairy foods naturally contain the sugar known as lactose, while vegetables and fruits naturally contain glucose and fructose. Added sugars are incorporated into foods to increase palatability, moistness, flavor and texture.
The sugars added to our food contribute 16 percent of the total calories in Americans diet. Sugar, when consumed in moderation, can be part of a balanced, healthy diet. However, too much sugar can result in excess caloric intake and weight gain.
An abundance of sugar in the diet also promotes growth of bacteria in our mouths, which can lead to tooth decay.
Snack cakes, sweetened beverages, candy and other foods high in sugar contain empty calories, meaning they are rich in sugars but lack other important nutrients.
The more empty calories we consume, the harder it becomes to include enough foods with the dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that we need to keep our bodies healthy.
The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 100 calories (six teaspoons) for women and 150 calories (nine teaspoons) for men come from added sugars each day.
In order to identify added sugars in food products, look for these words in the ingredient list: malt syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, raw sugar, cane juice, fruit nectar, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, corn syrup solids, agave nectar, white sugar and brown sugar.
When reading the ingredient list and food label, remember that just because sweeteners, such as agave nectar and honey, are called natural, it does not mean that they are healthier for us than white and brown sugar. Agave nectar, honey and other sugars are all concentrated sources of calories and carbohydrates.
According to the National Cancer Institutes analysis of the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the majority of the added sugars in the U.S. diet come from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the added sugars in your diet is to drink more water and reduced fat or fat free milk in place of sugar-sweetened beverages. Replacing just one 12 oz can of soda with water eliminates more than nine teaspoons of added sugar and 140 calories from your diet.
Some other easy ways to limit added sugars in your familys diet is to purchase fruit canned in water or 100 percent juice, serve fresh fruits for dessert, use cinnamon and other spices in place of sugar to enhance flavor, sweeten plain yogurt with fruit instead of buying pre-sweetened yogurt and choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened cereals for breakfast.
If you enjoy baking, you can usually reduce the sugar called for in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3 without affecting the quality or taste of the product. By gradually reducing the added sugars you consume, you can take control of your health while still enjoying delicious, nutrient-rich foods.
Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.