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Limiting sugars in holiday eating can help promote better health

In the United States, the number one source of added sugars is non-diet soft drinks. Candies, cakes, cookies, and fruit drinks are also major sources of added sugars. We may find these foods on our holiday party plates, too.

Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars. Sugars are carbohydrates and a source of energy or calories. Dietary carbohydrates also include the complex carbohydrates, starch and dietary fiber. During digestion all carbohydrates except fiber break down into sugars. Sugars and starches occur naturally in many foods that also supply other nutrients. Examples of these foods include milk, fruits, some vegetables, breads, cereals, and grains.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods in processing or preparation, not the naturally occurring sugars in foods. The body cannot tell the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars because they are identical chemically. Foods containing added sugars provide calories, but may have few vitamins and minerals.

Consuming excess calories from these foods may contribute to weight gain or lower consumption of more nutritious foods. A food is likely to be high in sugars if one of these names appears first or second in the ingredient list, or if several names are listed. Corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. Limit your use of these beverages and foods. Drink water often, and offer it to children.

Some foods with added sugars, like chocolate milk, pre-sweetened cereals, and sweetened canned fruits, also are high in vitamins and minerals. These foods may provide extra calories along with the nutrients and are fine if you need the extra calories.

The Nutrition Facts Label gives the content of sugars from all sources, naturally occurring sugars plus added sugars. You can use the Nutrition Facts Label to compare the amount of total sugars among similar products. To find out if sugars have been added, you also need to look at the food label ingredient list.

Sugar substitutes such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose are extremely low in calories. Some people find them useful if they want a sweet taste without the calories. Unless you reduce the total calories you eat or increase your physical activity, using sugar substitutes will not cause you to lose weight.

Foods that are high in sugars but low in essential nutrients primarily contribute calories to the diet. When you take in extra calories and don't offset them by increasing your physical activity, you will gain weight. As you aim for a healthy weight and fitness, keep an eye on portion size for all foods and beverages, not only those high in sugars.

Choose sensibly to limit your intake of beverages and foods that are high in added sugars. Get most of your calories from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, and lean meats or meat substitutes.

Be aware of soft drinks or other sweets that may crowd out foods you need to maintain health. Lastly, drink water often.

Web posted on Thursday, November 30, 2006

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