Wait, That's Sugar, too?

Wait, That's Sugar, too?

If you’re trying to watch your weight, chances are you’ve indulged in something sweet with a sugar substitute. It seems like a good way to enjoy a treat without all the calories, right?

High-intensity sweeteners are often used as sugar substitutes because they are many times sweeter than sugar. They are popular because they add only a few or no calories when added to foods.

Like all ingredients added to food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaving site icon regulates high-intensity sweeteners. Several years ago, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) received a bad name for being very unhealthy. Researchers found that it contributes to obesity. How?

Most sugars, including white table sugar, agave syrup and molasses are processed from their original forms to make them safe and easy to eat. They are made up of one part glucose (the sugar found in tomatoes, onions and mushrooms) and one part fructose (the sugar found in fruit and honey). HFCS is different. It is a highly processed form of corn sugar that has a higher amount of fructose than glucose. The body processes the fructose in a way that causes obesity.

HFCS’s Effects on Your Body

HFCS causes a spike in your body’s blood sugar. The spike can last for quite some time before blood sugar levels return to normal. This affects your metabolism in a way that can lead to obesity. HFCS also increases your triglyceride levels and bad cholesterol (LDL). All of these things boost your risk for obesity and heart disease.

The negative press has made people more aware of what they are eating. More people are reading food labels to look for hidden sugars in foods. Now the FDA has approved renaming the dangerous sugar on food labels. High-fructose corn syrup will now be called HFCS-90. So, if you’re really monitoring your sugar intake, be aware. Don’t let it sneak by you!

Log Your Sugar Intake

Watching your sugar intake is important for everyone – especially people with diabetes. Using a food diary is a great way to keep track of your sugar intake along with your calories and nutrients. Being well informed is an important step to being your healthiest. Good health means fewer doctor visits, less medication, more energy and greater vitality.

Ways to Avoid HFCS
  • Eat foods from the produce area of your grocery store. Natural produce is the best source of all the nutrients you need including natural sugars.
  • Eat organic foods. The word “organic” is highly regulated on food labels. If you see something marked “organic,” you’re pretty safe to trust the food is free of HFCS.
  • You can substitute sugars for no-calorie sweeteners. If you’re looking for guilt-free sweeteners, there are many no-calorie options out there. Although they appear safe now, with long-term or excessive consumption, artificial sweeteners have proved to cause cancer. When you’re reading food labels, look for these artificial sweeteners: sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium (ACE-K).
  • Avoid sodas and other bottled beverages other than water.
  • Lower your overall sweetener consumption. Just say, “No,” and skip the sweet you crave. Your “sweet tooth” will diminish over time so sugar no longer has a power over you.
  • Eat nature’s sugar, fruit!
Watch Out for HFCS Foods

HFCS is mostly found in packaged and processed foods. Steer clear of these HFCS-loaded foods:

  • Juice cocktails
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Salad dressings
  • Ketchup
  • Breads and baked goods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Cereal
  • Fruit yogurts
  • Nutrition bars
  • Candy and candy bars

Your health is important, so take the time to read food labels and avoid foods laden with HFCS. Instead, eat foods without high fructose corn syrup.

You can also help stay healthy year round by taking advantage of important health screenings covered by your health plan. This includes preventive services, such as screening for abnormal blood glucose, that may be covered at no cost to you if services are provided by a network provider. *

Do you have a sweet tooth?

*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number listed on your member ID card.
Sources: Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States, leaving site icon U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2018. 

Originally published 4/21/2016; Revised 2021