Topic of the Week

TOTW: The Sugar Epidemic


This is a post I’ve been wanting to write up for a while, but I get overwhelmed every time I try.

Bottom line: this post is not going to answer all the questions about sugar. It’s probably not going to even get below the surface.

It’s just going to summarize the information I included in my big presentation at the end of my food service rotation…well, minus the part about healthy aging and obesity.  Not that it’s not an important topic, I just feel like it doesn’t flow with everything else in this setting.

We should probably start with the basics…

What is Sugar?

Sugars are chemically-related, sweet flavored substances that in their simplest form are the monosaccharides glucose, fructose, and galactose.


These three monosaccharides are what your body absorbs and uses for energy.  Sugar is found naturally in the tissue of most plants and milk products but they all have varying types and amounts of sugars in them.

When most of us think of sugar we probably picture the white, granulated sugar you buy in a bag and use for baking.  That sugar is sucrose, which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.  It’s different from lactose, the sugar found in milk, which is 50% glucose and 50% galactose.

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Sugar is definitely a controversial topic right now, but I think it’s safe to say that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) takes center stage in a lot of the debates.  HFCS is made from dent corn, the same kind that is used to make tortillas and tortilla chips.  That corn is turned into cornstarch through milling process, made into a liquid corn syrup, which is mostly glucose, through hydrolysis, and then an enzymatic process turns some of that glucose into fructose.



Basically, the name is misleading.  HFCS is not actually high in fructose compared to sucrose, it’s high in fructose compared to corn syrup.  HFCS actually has about the same amount of fructose as sucrose.  There are two types, HFCS-42 and HFCS-55.  The number corresponds to the percentage of fructose…so HFCS-42 is 42% fructose.

The sweet syrup gained popularity in the 1970s when the price of cane and beet sugar began to rise.  When manufactures realized they could make sugar out of corn, a popular US crop, the answer was obvious.  The sweetener was cheap and readily available, so manufactures began to add it liberally to their food products.

USDA data shows that from the 1970s to 2000, consumption of HFCS increased and consumption of cane and beet sugar decreased.  The calories in the average American diet also increased, from 2076 daily in 1970 to 2534 daily in 2010.  Interestingly enough, of that 458 calorie increase, only 34 calories are from added sugars.

Where is the Sugar Hiding?

It’s hiding in a lot of places…and it goes by a lot of different names that make it hard to find on food labels.

We expect sugar to be in sweet foods, like cakes, candy, soda…all those super sweet things.  Without putting too much thought into it it’s pretty easy to identify those sweet foods and cut them out of our diets if we want to avoid sweets, right?

Unfortunately, there is added sugar in a lot of other products too, like cereal, granola bars, salad dressing, vegetable juice, chips, pretzels, crackers, and even infant formula.

confused and overwhelmed


It’s nearly impossible to escape if you’re eating processed foods.

So what can you do?

Eat more home cooked meals.  Eat less processed foods.  Read food labels!

Making any one of those changes can be completely overwhelming so start slow.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.  If you are wanting to cut back on sugar a bit, look for these names on the ingredients list, they’re you’re hidden sugars!

•Brown sugar
•Confectioner’s powdered sugar
•Corn syrup
•Corn syrup solids
•High fructose corn syrup
•Invert sugar
•Malt syrup
•Maple syrup
•Pancake syrup
•Raw sugar
•White granulated sugar
Overwhelmed? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  The good news is that a new nutrition facts panel is in the works that will include “added sugars” as a separate category, making it easy to distinguish between the natural sugar that occurs in foods and the sweet stuff that’s added.
Honestly, it’s the added stuff that’s more of a concern if you ask me.  Some foods just have sugar in them naturally and it’s not that big of a deal if you’re not eating obscene amount of them.
The added stuff just shouldn’t be there though…it’s no good!
So take your new found knowledge and read some food labels!



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