Sugar Shock: The Unsavory Truth About Sugar Addiction

Even if you shun regular soda and rarely cave in to your cupcake cravings, chances are you're still on a major sugar high. According to the USDA, the sugar facts are that Americans take in more than twice the maximum recommended limit of 40 grams of added sugar a day.

And it's not just your dental bills you have to worry about: Consuming too much of the sweet stuff can lead to weight gain, metabolic disorder (a precursor of diabetes and heart disease), and possibly even certain cancers.

To scale back,end your sugar addiction and get back on the trail to a balanced healthy diet, read labels and look for ingredients panels with little or no added sugar. "The type found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy is preferable," says Melinda Johnson, R.D., a Phoenix nutritionist, "because it comes packaged with nutrients our bodies need, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber."

Hidden sources of sweeteners can also fuel a sugar addiction.

You know you'll find sugar in candy and cake, but it also lurks in products you'd never suspect were sabotaging your efforts to kick your sugar addiction. Defend yourself with these tips.

  1. Healthy eating tip # 1: Speak the language "Most people monitor their intake of table sugar, or sucrose," says Mary Ellen Bingham, R.D., a New York City nutritionist. But sugar goes under a variety of aliases that can undermine your balanced healthy diet. In addition to the usual suspects (granulated, brown, and raw sugars), keep an eye out for these red flags: maltose, dextrose (glucose), fructose, fruit juice concentrate, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, malt syrup, and brown rice syrup.
  2. Healthy eating tip # 2: Get the skinny on fat-free "Some low fat or fat-free foods contain higher amounts of processed sugar to mask missing flavor," says Bingham.
  3. Healthy eating tip # 3: Lay off the sauce "Barbecue, spaghetti, and hot sauces may get more than half their calories from added sugar," says Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Feed Your Family Right! "The same goes for condiments, such as ketchup and relish, as well as some bottled salad dressings." Request them on the side when dining out.
  4. Healthy eating tip # 4: Know that "all-natural" doesn't mean "sugar-free" There aren't any guidelines for this healthy-sounding label, and some products that bear it, like certain cereals and yogurts, are packed with added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Read on for more sugar facts so that you can protect your balanced healthy diet![header = Sugar facts: get the scoop on sugar addiction and learn how to fight back.]

3 Top Sugar Facts: Q & A

With all the headlines and claims, it's easy to be confused about sweeteners. We asked the experts to address your most pressing healthy eating concerns.

Q Can you develop a sugar addiction?

A It seems so. Research suggests sugar may trigger the release of neurotransmitters that activate the brain's pleasure pathways. In fact, a study from France's University of Bordeaux found that a high-sugar diet may cause cravings in animals that rival those for drugs like cocaine.

Q I've heard a lot about agave nectar. What exactly is it?

A Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener that is made from the blue agave plant, a desert shrub. "Agave nectar is only slightly lower in calories than sugar," says Elisa Zied, R.D. "But it falls lower on the glycemic index, which means it's absorbed more slowly by the body and won't cause blood sugar spikes." Because it's sweeter than table sugar, use about half the amount called for in a recipe; if you're baking, reduce the oven temperature by about 25°F because agave nectar has a lower burning point.

Q What's the real deal with high-fructose corn syrup. Is it bad for you?

A "High-fructose corn syrup has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose than other sweeteners," says Alexandra Shapiro, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Florida. Her research found that eating too much fructose may impair the function of leptin, a hormone that controls appetite-not good for trying to maintain a balanced healthy diet. Other studies, however, show that it has no effect on hormone levels. The bottom line for healthy eating: "Limit your intake of high-fructose corn syrup as you would any added sugar," says Zied.

Shape provides the info you need for your balanced healthy diet.