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Avoiding Sneaky Added Sugars with Dr. Amy Lee

Added sugars in our foods wreak havoc in the body in numerous ways. That’s why we sat down with endocrinologist Dr. Amy Lee for her insight on sneaky added sugars that creep into our diets.

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If you’re a longtime CE reader, you already know how we feel about sneaky added sugars. An overwhelming amount of science has proven that this simple carb consumed in excess wreaks havoc on the body. It’s nutrient-poor, linked to weight gain and associated disorders like insulin resistance, famously bad for oral health and much more. The worst part? It’s addictive! The human brain loves sugar, even if the human body hates it.

Clean Eating sits down with endocrinologist Dr. Amy Lee for her insight on sneaky added sugars that creep into our diets.
Dr. Amy Lee, Head of Nutrition for Nucific. Photo: Nucific

Here’s the bad news: According to endocrinologist Dr. Amy Lee, the Standard American Diet is rife with added sugar – especially in packaged foods. It’s used as a preservative in jellies and jams and a bulking agent in baked goods and ice creams. And those are just the usual suspects. Added sugar is even commonly found in savory foods as a flavor-balancing ingredient, such as in vinegary or tomato-based sauces. Basically, it’s in nearly everything.

But here’s the good news, says Dr. Lee: You can very effectively cut added sugars out of your diet if you make a habit of reading ingredient labels. Spot sugars by looking for words that end in “ose,” such as fructose, dextrose or maltose. For a longer list, check out this compilation of 56 other names for sugar by diabetes-focused startup Virta Health. You’ll quickly discover just how many products contain added sugars in one form or another.

“Some surprising foods high in sugar include milk, cereals, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, flavored yogurt, salad dressings, white bread and pasta,” says Dr. Lee. “Take spaghetti sauce, for example. Cheaper brands are filled with sugar and can have up to additional 20g net carbs per serving. In contrast, jars with no added sugar usually have 4 to 6g net carbs. That’s a huge difference!”

So, how much added sugar should you really be eating daily? “The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we drastically cut back on added sugars to help slow the ongoing obesity and heart disease epidemics,” she says. For women, the AHA advises against getting any more than 100 calories per day (roughly 6 teaspoons or 24 g) from added sugar. For men, the number is 150 calories (roughly 9 teaspoons or 36 g).

Some other everyday tips from Dr. Lee on reducing sugar intake and improving the impact of sugar in the body include:

  • Choosing open-face sandwiches instead of using two pieces of bread (bread often contains added sugars as a bulking agent)
  • Looking for foods with “built in” dietary fiber on the nutrition label. Fiber regulates how the body processes sugars, helping to keep both blood sugar and hunger levels balanced.
  • If you’re stuck eating a high-carb meal, perhaps because you’re a dinner guest or that’s the food you have on hand, increase fiber intake at the same time. E.g. pile on the green salads with minimal dressings. Fiber can help prevent rapid absorption of sugars.
  • Making your own homemade dressings for salads, as packaged dressings are often high in sugars.

At CE, we’ve written extensively on sugar, from harmful effects to how to effectively curb consumption. Stay savvy on the sweet stuff with the following reads: