When the package says “No Sugar Added”…

I was in Costco last week scanning the boxes of granola bars and one caught my attention; on the box it said naturally sweetened and no sugar added. This is not typical of granola bars, so I excitedly turned the box over to look at the ingredients: brown rice syrup and honey were listed within the first 4 ingredients- those are both types of sugar! It is this kind of false advertising that makes me so frustrated for my clients. Consumers are trying to make healthier choices, and food companies are making it harder on them with misleading advertising.

In the eyes of a dietitian, sugar is sugar no matter what form it comes in. Sugar is a generic name for sweet carbohydrates and has many aliases; glucose, fructose, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, dextrose, malt syrup, caramel, brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup… the list literally goes on and on. At the end of the day sugar in any form is sugar.

Since honey and Agave are being advertised as a healthier alternative to sugar, it is important to know that both are mostly fructose. Having more fructose does make them sweeter, meaning people can use less, and they have a lower glycemic index which is why people feel they are healthier. However, higher fructose consumption has been linked to higher triglycerides levels in the blood and contribution to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in some studies. It can also cause gastrointestinal distress in people with a sensitive gut.

The Bottom line:

All forms of sugar provide roughly the same number of calories (15 to 20 calories) and carbohydrates (4-5g) per teaspoon. Regardless of form, excess sugar can be harmful no matter what kind you use.

What’s the plan then:

Be in control of where added sugar is coming from.

Instead of flavoured yogurt, add frozen berries (ingredients: blueberries, black berries, strawberries) to plain yogurt (ingredients: milk and bacteria cultures). Once the berries melt the sweetness of the juice sweetens the yogurt and it’s delicious! You now have something that has 5 ingredients that you know versus 15+ in store bought flavoured yogurt with added sugar.

Don’t worry about sugars that naturally occur in fruits – when you consume them in their whole form they are accompanied by vitamins, minerals, and fibre making them a healthier option. Pairing them with a source of protein will help to satisfy you for longer and manage your blood sugar levels.

Enjoy whole foods and try to make as much of your own dressings, sauces and granola bars as possible.

Keep in mind:

Treats are just as the name suggests; they are a treat for you and meant to be enjoyed mindfully. We want most of your calories to come from nutrient-dense whole foods that nourish and support your body. Treats can be added into your diet for the enjoyment and balance of life.