Sugars are found naturally in milk and milk products (lactose) and fruits (fructose). Most of the sugar in the American diet is from sugars added during food processing and preparation, or at the table.
Sweeteners made with different sugars:
When you eat foods containing natural sugars (such as fruit), these foods also include vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
However, many foods with added sugars contain nothing but calories. These foods and drinks are often called "empty" calories.
Most people know that there is a lot of added sugar in soda. However, many people do not realize that popular "vitamin-type" waters, sports drinks, coffee drinks, and energy drinks also contain a lot of added sugar.
Some sweeteners are made by processing sugar compounds. Others occur naturally.
Sucrose (table sugar) is made from a low-sugar beet juice or sugar cane.
Other commonly used sugars include:
Other types of natural sugars:
Other types of natural sugars:
Sugar provides calories and no other nutrients. Sugar or caloric sweeteners can lead to tooth decay.
Large amounts of sugar-containing foods, along with other carbohydrates and fats, can cause obesity in children and adults. Obese people are at much higher risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure.
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol may have a laxative effect when eaten in large amounts.
Sugar is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) list of safe foods. It contains 16 calories per teaspoon and can be used in moderation. All of the types of sugars described in this article can be used in moderation.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars in your diet. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, not just one type, such as high fructose corn syrup.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends limiting added sugars. Strategies to reduce added sugars include:
The American Diabetes Association nutrition guidelines now state that if you have diabetes, you do not need to avoid sugar and foods that contain sugar. You can eat these foods in place of other carbohydrate foods, in limited amounts.
Johnson RJ, Appel LJ, Brands M, Howard BV, Lefevre M, Lustig RH, et al. Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-1020.
Franz MJ, et al. American Diabetes Association Nutrition Recommendations and Guidelines. Diabetes Care. 2008;31 (Suppl 1):S61-S78.
Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, DesprÃ©s JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:2477-2483.
United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.
Updated by: Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, WAshington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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