Halloween candy isn’t a primary cause of the nation’s obesity epidemic. But everyday consumption of sweetened foods — some of which contain frightfully high levels of hidden sugar — are the key culprits in the nation’s ever-expanding waistline, says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum.
In fact, some processed foods and sauces contain enough sugar to rival what’s found in Halloween treats.
“We don’t recommend stealing candy from babies,” says Teitelbaum, author of the recently released “Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction!”
“Trick-or-treating comes once a year, so enjoy Halloween, but then leave off the excess sugar the rest of the year — so you don’t end up looking and feeling like a zombie!”
Teitelbaum tells Newsmax Health occasional indulgences in sweets — during Halloween or holidays — aren’t a major concern. But the real problem is what he calls the “runaway sugar consumption” that is part of the standard American diet.
“The average American adult consumes 140 pounds of empty calories from sugar and white flour each year,” says Teitelbaum, “and that’s hazardous to our overall health.”
American-style daily sugar consumption has been shown to contribute to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, cognitive impairment, diabetes and metabolic problems, chronic pain, fatigue, and the obesity epidemic.
Teitelbaum recommends choosing natural sweeteners — like stevia — that are actually good for you. He also says chocolate, rich in antioxidant polyphenols, should be considered a “health food” when consumed in moderation. It also pays to be an avid food-label reader, to identify foods with high levels of sugar.
“Be sure to read the nutrition labels on the packages you buy. Every 4 grams of sugar listed equals one teaspoon of sugar. You’ll be shocked at how much added sugar is hidden in common foods we purchase.”
In fact, many things you'd never suspect — from pasta sauces to salad dressings to fruit smoothies — can contain as much or more sugar than Halloween treats.
Rachel K. Johnson, dietary specialist and vice chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, tells Newsmax Health most Americans consume twice as much sugar as they should, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One reason: Many processed foods don't list "sugar" on the ingredients label, but instead refer to sweeteners by their chemical names — such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, and maltose.
"Because added sugars aren't listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel you need to become a savvy reader of ingredient lists," says Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. "Added sugars are ubiquitous in many processed foods. Consumers can read the ingredient lists to locate added sugars. Anything ending with the letters 'ose' is usually a sugar."
To help consumers identify food products that contain hidden sugar, here are five otherwise healthy foods that can have high sugar levels.
No. 1: Pasta sauces. Tomato-based sauces are generally healthy, with one cup counting as a single vegetable serving. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant linked to a lower risk of prostate and breast cancer. But a single serving of processed tomato sauce can contain as much added sugar as a candy bar, with one leading brand delivering as much as 30 grams of sugar (almost eight teaspoons) per cup.
Tip: Only buy sauces where any type of sugar (corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc.) is listed at the end of the ingredients.
No. 2: Fat-free dressings. Fat-free salad dressings might seem like a healthier choice than full-fat products, but they are often loaded with salt and sugar to compensate for the loss of flavor that results from reducing the fat content. Some contain as much as 4 grams (about a teaspoon) per tablespoon of dressing.
Tip: Use dressings with very little added sugar listed and those made with heart-healthy canola or olive oil as the top ingredient, and use them sparingly.
No. 3: Smoothies. Liquid meals can be a great way to increase your intake of healthy fruits, lean protein, and dairy products, but many commercially prepared smoothies are packed with as much sugar as soda — up to 38 grams of sugar (more than nine teaspoons) in a single bottle.
Tip: Make your own smoothies with skim milk, nonfat yogurt, and fresh fruit of your choice, with just a dab of maple syrup or honey for sweetness.
No. 4: Barbecue sauce. Adding barbecue sauce to grilled foods can kick up the flavor, but those made with molasses or high-fructose corn syrup can account for as much as 80 percent of the calories (up to three teaspoons of sugar in only 2 tablespoons of sauce).
Tip: Choose low-sugar sauces and use them sparingly, or make your own sauce to limit the amount of sugar you use.
No. 5: Multi-grain cereals, crackers. Compared to foods made with processed white flour, multi-grain crackers and cereals are a healthy, rich source of whole grains and fiber. But some products are packed with sugar, canceling out the health benefits they offer.
Tip: Avoid products with sugar listed among the first three ingredients, which can pack as much as more than a teaspoon of sugar in every single serving. Choose cereals with no added sugars, such as plain shredded wheat, and add sweeteners yourself. Buy crackers that contain only whole-grain wheat, oil, and salt, such as Triscuits and Kashi Original Whole Grain Crackers.
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