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Is Sugar Slowing Your Weight Loss?

February 17, 2015

Sugar—it’s that sweet flavor that we all crave from time to time.

But with it comes added calories that may slow your weight loss. While certain sugars are naturally found in fruits, vegetables and dairy, others are added during processing or hidden in some foods you may not expect.

Finding and limiting these “added sugars” is helpful for weight loss—and for your long-term health. Here’s information on how and why these sugars could be stalling your weight loss efforts, and what you can do about:

Too Much Sugar—What Are the Risks?

Added sugars are associated with a higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, inflammation and cardiovascular disease. In a recent study, added sugars were found to be associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  

Research shows that Americans consume about 13 percent of their calories from added sugar. This is well beyond the amount the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends, which is less than 10 percent of daily calories. For additional health benefits, WHO recommends that added sugars comprise less than 5 percent of your daily diet.

The American Heart Association also recommends limiting added sugar. The goal for men is 150 calories/day (38g) and 100 calories/day for women (25g).  But as Americans, we already consume way more than we should of most foods, especially sugar. We’re eating double the recommended amount, as the typical American man and woman consumes 335 calories and 239 calories of added sugar a day, respectively.

How to Find Added Sugars

This over-consumption is leading many people to pack on extra pounds. According to SugarScience, added sugar is hiding in a 74 percent of packaged foods.

I encourage you to take a closer look at the foods you choose, because these added sugars may be piling up and causing unhealthy weight gain. Read the ingredients on your food labels to pinpoint any added sugars. You may not find the word “sugar” on the label, but may see these terms:

Anhydrous dextroseMalt syrupCane juice
Brown sugarMaltoseAgave
Confectioner’s powdered sugarMaple syrupEvaporated corn sweetener
Corn syrupMolassesFruit juice concentrate
Corn syrup solidsNectarCrystal dextrose
DextrosePancake syrupGlucose
High-fructose corn syrupRaw sugarSugar cane juice
HoneySucroseFruit nectar
Invert sugarWhite granulated sugarLactose
Adapted from: JAcadNutrDiet. 212;112:742

Foods that contain milk or fruit also may have higher sugar content. However, naturally occurring and added sugars are added together on food labels. For example, in products like yogurt, sugar content is high because the label lists the total of both the naturally-occurring sugar (lactose) and added sugars. Some organizations have proposed new labeling rules to separate natural from added sugars on food labels. But until this happens, you should pay close attention to the foods you consume or talk to a dietitian to get more insight about how to minimize additional sugar in your diet.

Hidden Sugars Add Up Fast

Manufacturers add sugar to their products for several reasons. It adds texture or flavor, supports yeast growth in bread products, contributes to volume or balances acidity (as in salad dressings). In low-fat products, sugar may be added to replace fats. But for heart health, it isn’t a healthier option. Low-calorie products and supposedly healthy products also have hidden sugars. A day of perceived healthy food choices, as shown below, may be a day of added sugars.
BreakfastSugar (g)
Coffee with fat-free or regular flavored creamer 2 TBSP10
Cherry Greek yogurt 5.3 oz5 ½
Maple & brown sugar oatmeal 1 packet12
LunchSugar (g)
Chunky vegetable soup 1 can8
Lettuce with fat-free raspberry dressing 2 TBSP10
Chocolate oat granola bar10
DinnerSugar (g)
Spaghetti sauce ¾ cup15
Low fat ice cream bar15
BeveragesSugar (g)
Vanilla almond milk 1 cup16
Gatorade 28 fl oz49
This menu is high in sugar and lacking in essential nutrients. Total added sugars for the day rack up to 150.5 grams, which amounts to a whopping 602 sugar calories.

Easy Substitutions Can Make a Big Difference

By modifying choices at each meal, you can minimize your sugar intake. At breakfast, switch the coffee creamer to low-fat milk, fat-free half & half or unsweetened soymilk.  Use plain oatmeal and add applesauce, raisins, cinnamon and pecans. Try plain Greek yogurt mixed with berries or a low-sugar yogurt.

For lunch, bring homemade vegetable soup or turkey chili. Make salad dressing at home with olive oil and flavored vinegars and select a granola bar sweetened naturally with dates. Round out lunch with a low-fat cheese stick or a cup of skim milk and a piece of fruit.

At dinner, whip up spaghetti sauce using fresh Roma tomatoes, garlic and basil—a quick dish that is free of added sugars. Include whole grain pasta, vegetables and a fruit for dessert.

Also, pay attention to your drinks. The added sugars from beverages alone (260 calories) really rack up the calories. Minimize sugar from beverages by switching to unsweetened almond milk. Opt for water rather than a sports drink. Replenish fluids and electrolytes with sports drinks only for workouts that last more than an hour. For shorter workouts, rehydrate with water.

Take the time to evaluate the sugar in your diet. Read labels and make a lower sugar choice, if possible. Use the American Heart Association recommendations as a guide for the amount of added sugar to eat each day, and shoot for less than 150 calories (38g) of added sugars each day for men and 100 calories (25g) for women. Prepare more foods from scratch and limit sweetened beverages. Add all these items to your weight loss checklist, and it should be easier to meet your goals and improve your overall health.