Your body needs sugar to function. Other than fiber, all carbohydrates break down into sugar during digestion, which your body converts into glucose -- its main fuel source. Sugar also occurs naturally in nutritious foods and is added to others for enhanced flavor and shelf life. Americans consume excessive amounts of added sugars, such as refined sugar and corn syrup, which is a potential cause of weight gain, high triglycerides and other health problems. Choosing low-sugar fare can lower these risks while improving your overall wellness.
Meats, Eggs and Fish
Meats, eggs and fish are naturally devoid of carbohydrates and sugar. They also provide valuable amounts of nutrients, such as protein, B vitamins and iron. To avoid added sugars, prepare meats, eggs and fish without sugary ingredients, such as sweet marinades. MayoClinic.com also suggests going easy on the condiments, such as ketchup and barbecue sauce, which tend to be high in corn syrup and other added sugars.
Dairy products provide valuable amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Though they also contain lactose, a naturally occuring sugar, they are low-glycemic -- meaning they have a mild impact on your blood sugar. Positive blood sugar control can help keep food cravings at bay between meals, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, and guard against weight gain and diabetes complications. Particularly nutritious, low-sugar dairy products include low-fat milk, no-sugar-added or plain yogurt and low-fat plain cream cheese. To avoid excessive added sugars, top plain yogurt with fresh fruit. Added fruit and sweeteners contain an average of 26 grams of sugar per 6-ounce container. Light yogurts containing low-calorie sweeteners contain about 12 to 14 grams per 6-ounce serving. Plain yogurt is free of added sugars, and contains about 7 grams of natural sugars per 8-ounce cup.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain rich amounts of antioxidants, fiber and water, and varying amounts of natural sugars known as fructose, raffinose and sorbitol. They contain far less concentrated amounts of natural and added sugars than processed foods, however, such as juices and other fruity drinks. Researchers with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that many popular fruit drinks contain as much or more sugar than a candy bar, according to a CBS News report released in October 2011. And while fruit juices and dried fruits, such as dates, are high-glycemic, whole fruits and vegetables have a mild glycemic impact. Examples of particularly low-glycemic, low-sugar varieties include berries, oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, broccoli and cauliflower.
Whole grains provide low-glycemic, complex carbohydrates and more antioxidants, protein and fiber than refined grains, such as white flour. Like other natural foods, the sugars that occur in whole grains are not linked with negative health effects. To keep your added sugar intake low, MayoClinic.com recommends eating fewer processed foods, and reading labels on cereals carefully. If a cereal lists sugar, honey, corn syrup, dextrose or other added sugars among the top ingredients, seek one containing primarily whole grains, such as whole wheat or oats, instead. Other nutritious, low-sugar whole-grain foods include 100 percent whole-grain breads, steel-cut oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, pearled barley and quinoa.
Low-Sugar and Sugar-Free Diet Foods
A variety of commercial foods aimed at weight or blood sugar control contain artificial or "low-calorie" sweeteners in place of added sugars. While these foods are generally considered safe for moderate consumption, the foods still contain calories, warns the American Diabetes Association. And because artificial sweeteners are at least 100 times sweeter than regular sugar, it's possible that going overboard can negatively impact your blood sugar levels and increase your appetite for sweets. If you enjoy artificially sweetened foods, such as diet soft drinks, sugar-free candy and carbohydrate-reduced ice cream, stick to modest or occasional amounts.
- MayoClinic.com: Added Sugar: Don't Get Sabotaged by Added Sweeteners
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Why Does Yogurt Have So Much Sugar?
- USDA: Database for the Added Sugars Content of Selected Foods
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gas in the Digestive Tract
- CBSNews.com: Some Fruit Drinks' Sugar Akin to Candy's: Report
- American Diabetes Association: Artificial Sweeteners
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com