Steel yourself: ’Tis the season for sweet treats

 I don’t usually have much of a sweet tooth, but during the holidays I tend to go overboard on cookies and other baked goods at parties and when people bring treats to the office. This year, it seems to have started already. Any ideas to help me keep in control?

Actually, it sounds like you may be a step ahead of most people. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 70 percent of U.S. adults and children consume more added sugars than recommended — and not just during the holidays.

The guidelines say to keep added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake. That means if your recommended calorie intake is 2,000 calories, your goal should be to keep sweets to a maximum of 200 calories a day.

It’s hard to estimate how many homemade gingerbread cookies or slices of pecan pie that might be. But since you can find added sugars in many types of foods and beverages, including salad dressing, yogurt and energy drinks, it’s a good idea to do what you can to limit the holiday treats to a reasonable amount — one or two small items a day, at most.

You’re probably thinking that, during the holidays, that’s easier said than done. But here are some thoughts to keep in mind as the celebrations begin:

Decide in advance that you’ll choose only the treats you will truly, deeply enjoy. Some sweets are definitely worth the indulgence, but, let’s face it, others aren’t. Give yourself permission not to sample items for fear of insulting the baker (even if it’s your supervisor at work or your very best friend), and make up your mind now to pass on the items that aren’t your very favorites. And for those treats that are worthwhile, imagine taking one modest portion from the platter and slowly savoring each bite. Many dietitians recommend this mindful approach to eating not just during the holidays but all year round to reduce the extra, empty calories we often mindlessly consume.

Find ways to cut back on other added sugars in your diet this time of year. Sugar-sweetened soda, fruit drinks, coffee and other beverages account for nearly half the added sugars that Americans typically consume. Opting for ice water, sparkling water, or plain coffee or tea instead of high-sugar drinks most of the time can go a long way to allowing you to feel just fine about indulging in an iced butter cookie or slice of pumpkin roll. And beverages are just one aspect of the diet to consider. If you normally have cereal with added sugars or toast with jelly for breakfast, for example, choose unsweetened alternatives during this time of year.

At holiday gatherings, position yourself so the goodies aren’t in your line of vision. Remember the old joke about the “see-food” diet? It’s true — visual cues are often hard to ignore. But you can make this work for you, too. Keep a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter to make it easy to grab an apple before you leave for a party. Filling up on fruits and vegetables always makes it easier to blithely decline an extra treat.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF version of this column, please click here.

Added sugar in yogurt can be hard to identify

chow_022616-78617919A friend recently read a book on healthful eating and is now telling me I should stop eating yogurt because it contains so much sugar. I normally have a 6-ounce container after dinner, and I admit I was surprised at the sugar content when I looked at the label. Should I cut back?  

First, take a second look at the label that surprised you so much. Currently, the Nutrition Facts label simply lists the amount of sugar in a product as a subset of its carbohydrates. This sugar can be naturally occurring, such as the sugars from the milk or fruit in the yogurt, or it can be sugars added during processing, such as sucrose, honey or high-fructose corn syrup. You can’t tell which is which from the Nutrition Facts label.

Nutrition professionals have long differentiated between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Added sugars are often called “empty calories” because they aren’t accompanied by vitamins, minerals or other beneficial nutrients. For example, when you consume sugar from milk or yogurt (lactose), you get calcium, too. When you consume sugar from an orange (fructose, glucose and sucrose), you also get vitamin C plus a whole host of other nutrients. But added sugar doesn’t provide much more than added calories.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. If you normally eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s 200 calories from added sugars, or 50 grams of added sugars a day. If you normally eat 1,600 calories a day, that’s means 40 grams of added sugars.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently proposing changes to the Nutrition Facts label so it would be easy for consumers to see how much of the sugar in a product is naturally occurring and how much is added. But in the meantime, figuring it out can take some detective work.

For yogurt, first look at the ingredients list for sugars. If they are listed in the first few ingredients, then the product could be high in added sugars. To get a ballpark estimate of how much of the sugar is “added sugar,” compare the Nutrition Facts label of a similar yogurt that is sugar-free. If your yogurt has 25 grams of sugar, and the plain or artificially sweetened comparable yogurt has 12 grams, you can assume there are about 13 grams of added sugar in your yogurt.

Is that too much? It’s hard to say. Those 13 grams could be perfectly reasonable depending on what else you eat over the course of a day. But if it’s just one of many foods with added sugars you commonly eat, it could put you over the top.

If it’s something you’re concerned about, you could try yogurt made with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners. Or if that doesn’t appeal to you, what about plain yogurt topped with fresh berries or other fruit? Or, just trim back added sugars from other foods and keep enjoying your nightly treat.

It’s good be more aware of added sugars that you may not have known about, but it’s also important to look at the whole diet. You have options.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.


Added scrutiny for added sugars

157541706I understand that people are advised to cut back on added sugars in the diet. But why? Is it just that they’re “empty calories” or are there other reasons?

That’s a question even the experts are pondering these days.

In the past, consuming too much added sugar was seen as a sickeningly sweet path to both weight gain and cavities, but if you kept your weight in check and your teeth in good shape, it wasn’t really seen as harmful in other ways.

But in the last five years or so, new research is causing the scientific community to take a second look.

Studies and analysis in the scientific literature indicate that overconsumption of added sugars could in itself play a role in the development of heart disease. While not yet settled science, these ideas are worth considering.

One example is a study, “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among U.S. Adults,” that was published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It examined data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys conducted from 1988 through 2010, which included information from more than 31,000 people, along with additional information collected between 1988 and 2006 from nearly 12,000 people. After controlling for other risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol consumption, total calorie intake and obesity, the researchers found an association between higher added sugar intake and a higher risk of heart disease. The risk became apparent when added sugar exceeded 15 percent of daily calorie intake. That’s just 300 calories on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. You can get perilously close to that amount with one 20-ounce bottle of regular soda, not to mention added sugars typically consumed in other foods — cookies, ice cream, candy, breakfast cereal, and even foods like pasta sauce, granola bars, barbecue sauce, fat-free salad dressing and flavored yogurt.

Some fruits and vegetables — carrots and other root vegetables, for example, and fruits such as bananas and grapes — provide more sugars than you might expect, but they shouldn’t be lumped together with foods that have added sugars. Fruits and vegetables offer so many other benefits, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, that it’s important to eat more, not less, of them. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day, and 2 to 4 cups of vegetables a day, depending on overall calorie intake.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Look beyond high fructose corn syrup

488655329What’s the difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup starts out as corn syrup. But food and beverage manufacturers alter the product for a number of reasons: High fructose corn syrup tastes sweeter than regular corn syrup. It also has good browning capabilities — a plus when making baked goods.

To really understand the science behind the sweetness, you need to know some background about the sugars sucrose, glucose and fructose.

Sucrose is table sugar. It’s usually made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Chemically, it is made up of one molecule each of glucose and fructose, bonded together. Even though both are types of sugar, fructose tastes sweeter than glucose.

Corn syrup is primarily glucose, so it’s not as sweet as table sugar. It’s made from corn, which is a lot cheaper than sugar cane or sugar beets. To get a product that’s as sweet as regular sugar, manufacturers add enzymes to regular corn syrup to convert some of the glucose to fructose, and that’s what we know as high fructose corn syrup.

The most common types of high fructose corn syrup used by food and beverage manufacturers contain either 42 percent fructose or, even sweeter, 55 percent fructose. That compares with 50 percent fructose in table sugar. Despite the differences, all of these sugars contribute the same 4 calories per gram to the diet.

High fructose corn syrup has gotten a bad rap since 2004, when a commentary published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested there could potentially be a link between its consumption and obesity. Other scientists questioned such a relationship, saying that high fructose corn syrup is no better or worse health-wise than other added sugars.

Studies are still being published in the scientific literature about how the body processes different sugars and if that makes a difference in health. However, the consensus today recommends that we focus our efforts on limiting all added sugars, not just high fructose corn syrup.

So, if you happen to see “No high fructose corn syrup” on the front of a label, be smart and look at the Nutrition Facts label for overall sugar content. Also look at the ingredients listing to see what other types of sweeteners the item might contain, such as agave, dextrose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, crystalized fructose, honey or molasses. They’re all sugar.

For more about high fructose corn syrup from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, see

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

New labels to help ID added sugars

176774860Next month, I want to try to cut added sugars from my diet, but I’m confused when I look at the Nutrition Facts labels. For example, sliced fruit packed in juice seems to have a lot of sugar. How can I tell if it’s added sugar or just the natural sugars from the fruit and juice?

First, good for you for paying attention to added sugars in your diet. On average, Americans consume about 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production and processing, during cooking, or from the sugar bowl at the table. The nation’s Dietary Guidelines have recommended decreasing the amount of added sugars in the diet for years.

To answer your question, though, if the label says “100 percent juice,” there are no added sugars in the beverage.

This can get confusing because many food items that are labeled “100 percent juice” also list “fruit juice concentrate” on the ingredients label. Fruit juice concentrate is natural fruit juice with most of the water removed. If it’s not reconstituted — that is, if the same amount of water isn’t restored — then the concentrate is so sweet that it is considered an added sugar. But in order to claim “100 percent juice” on a label, the Food and Drug Administration says a food manufacturer must add as much water to a concentrated juice as appears in the original juice.

On the current Nutrition Facts labels, to find added sugars in foods, you need to examine the food ingredient listing and know to look for words like high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose or even honey. See a complete list of added sugars here:

But in March, the FDA proposed changing the Nutrition Facts label to clearly separate added sugars from other sugars. This way, consumers can tell at a glance if a product has added sugars, and how much. You can see the proposed new Nutrition Facts label at

The World Health Organization recently drafted a recommendation for people to limit consumption of added sugars to as low as 5 percent of calories. That recommendation includes even 100 percent fruit juice. Although many other nutrition authorities don’t consider 100 percent fruit juice to be an added sugar, most recommend eating whole fruit rather than drinking just the juice. Juice lacks dietary fiber, and it’s easy to consume in excess, contributing extra calories.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus

Cut back on sugar, high-fructose or not

I keep hearing different things about high-fructose corn syrup. Some people say it’s a lot worse than sugar, and others say it’s just the same. Who’s right? 


You’re seeing different viewpoints on this issue probably because research on high-fructose corn syrup is continuing to emerge. With each published study comes more commentary on both sides.

The problem is that some studies indicate that the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than it handles sucrose, but other studies haven’t found such differences. As a result, different scientists have different opinions on the issue.

High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is under the spotlight partly because it’s so ubiquitous in processed foods. But most people are surprised to learn how similar HFCS is to sucrose. Sucrose, the kind of sugar in your sugar bowl — and the type that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables — is composed of approximately equal parts of fructose and glucose.

High-fructose corn syrup is also a mixture of fructose and glucose, with the proportions often depending on its use. Pure corn syrup is almost all glucose, but HFCS made for use in baked goods usually contains about 42 percent fructose. HFCS used in beverages usually has about 55 percent fructose.

In a 2012 position paper on sweeteners, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reviewed research from the previous decade that looked for links between consuming HCFS and obesity

Still, don’t let that stop you from taking action. The fact is, if you’re like most people, you’d probably do well to reduce the amount of any added sugar in your diet.or other adverse effects in adults. The analysis determined that, overall, studies offered little evidence that HFCS differed from sucrose in such effects. But the analysis did suggest, because the studies were small and of short duration, that more studies are needed for more definitive conclusions.

Most Americans consume more than 350 calories of added sugars a day — that’s the type of sugar in soft drinks, cookies, candy, pastries, soft drinks and ice cream. It doesn’t include naturally occurring sugars, such as those in milk and fruit that are accompanied by all sorts of “good-for-you” nutrients.

To find added sugars, look at the ingredients listings on food labels. You’ll have to do some detective work, because added sugar goes by many names. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a list of what to look for at

Watch sugar intake over holidays

159190816I have a sweet tooth. I’ve been cutting back on sugar lately, but I’m worried about the holidays and all the extra sweets. Do you have any guidance?

It’s a good idea to eat less sugar — added sugar, that is. It’s estimated that Americans consume 16 percent of total calories from added sugar — the kind of sugar that’s added to foods during processing or preparation, as opposed to the type naturally found in fruit and other whole foods.

That 16 percent is equal to 320 calories a day on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet — far more than recommended. The American Heart Association suggests that women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars, and men no more than 150 calories a day.

The nutrition community agrees that cutting back on sugar would be a very good thing. Some experts, including the authors of a commentary published in the journal Nature in February 2012, even go so far as to call added sugars “toxic” and advocate regulating them like alcohol. Others are more moderate, saying that added sugars are just a source of needless empty calories and cutting back would help people with their weight and triglyceride levels, which increase when you eat too much sugar.

In either case, you should know that overdoing it on added sugars — or other carbohydrates, including white rice, bread and other refined grains, could cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop, possibly suddenly — and that variation in blood sugar could trigger more sugar cravings.

Be aware that avoiding added sugars can be a challenge. They’re not only in cake, cookies, pie, candy and ice cream, but they’re also in many processed foods, including barbecue sauce, salad dressing, canned soup, pasta sauce, granola bars, breakfast cereal, instant oatmeal, flavored yogurt, frozen dinners and many other foods. The largest contributor of added sugars in the diet is high-calorie soft drinks.

Looking at the “sugar” line on the Nutrition Facts label doesn’t always help, because it lumps naturally occurring sugar together with added sugars. So you need to look at the ingredients listing to determine if the product has added sugar. Look for words like cane crystals, corn sweetener, evaporated cane juice or syrup, fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, fruit juice concentrates, agave nectar (or other types of nectar), high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, or molasses.

Or more simply: Eat fewer processed foods and more fresh produce; use fresh ingredients when cooking; and drink more water and milk. And limit yourself to just one or two of those Christmas cookies at a time.