Understanding food labels can be challenging! Grams of this, percentages of that...it can be hard to know what’s good, bad, and ugly, right?
I’d love to help you understand one component of reading food labels: Sugar!
How much sugar is there in my food?
One of the first pieces is to know that every 4 grams of sugar that you see on a label equals one traditional sugar packet—like the kind you’d put in your coffee or tea.
For an example, I am going to use a jar of marinara sauce where the serving size is 1/2 cup. When I look at the sugar content, it has 4 grams of sugar in 1/2 cup of Marinara Sauce; a typical meal portion.
In other words, you are consuming a packet of sugar if you are having a half-cup of this sauce.
That’s a lot of sugar. How can I eat less of it?
As you start looking at food labels, you may be surprised to find sugar in almost everything, even things you wouldn’t expect like table salt (dextrose) and mayonnaise! One easy strategy to avoiding unnecessary “extras” like sugar and sodium is to eat more natural, less processed foods.
Preparing food takes more planning and work in the kitchen, but the advantage is that if you make it yourself, you’re a lot more aware of what you’re eating!
So, avoid processed foods as much as you can, and if there’s something that you really enjoy, like a treat, or even just a convenience food once in awhile, really be conscious of the serving size and the actual grams of sugar. (Remember that handy rule of thumb: 4 grams equals a packet of sugar.)
Sugar is sneaky.
You’ll find that these sugar grams are quite high in certain foods. Some of the biggest culprits are salad dressings, sauces, and protein bars: They look like they’re healthier options than chocolate bars, but often they’re not.
And dairy products are also high-sugar foods—yogurt is probably one of the worst! There are certainly great choices out there, but some of them have upwards of 35 grams of sugar! That’s just astronomical in terms of how much sugar you’re actually consuming. (Helpful hint: Try an unsweetened Greek yogurt and add a packet of sugar or a bit of stevia if you need a boost—or mix in half of a really ripe banana for a natural sweetener.)
Sometimes it seems that people think, “Well, having yogurt is so great, I should be feeling good and energized”, but if it’s laden with sugar, don’t be surprised if you feel the same energy crash you would get if you ate a chocolate bar.
Sugar: The bottom line
If you want a ballpark number to strive for, aim for 4 grams or less per serving in the foods you eat. If that means you need to have a smaller serving, or to put the product back and find a different product (or even better yet, make it yourself), it might take a bit of discipline...but you can do it! Of course, it may take some time and experimentation to find what works for you and your lifestyle—we’re creating healthy habits that are sustainable, after all!
The less sugar you have in your diet, the easier it is to lose weight and the better it is for your overall health. You’re going to have more energy, and you’re not going to have those sugar highs and then those crashes.
Looking for more assistance with your nutrition? Contact me here.