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Too Sweet to Be Seen

As Americans become more health-conscious, there is an illusion that healthier labels translate into healthier choices. Consumers beware. Organic, fat-free, and reduced-fat products may not be what you think. They may be an illusion that play at our flavor profiles. A flavor profiles are universally accepted basic tastes that stimulate and are perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Sweetness is the most heightened — and has created a myriad of additions of sugar to foods to satisfy our tastebuds.

Sugar is listed under different names — sorbitol, brown sugar, molasses, rice syrup, sorghum syrup, lactose, or fruit juice concentrate. And when reading labels one warning of hidden sugars is the removal of fat. Out goes fat and in comes sugar. Fat-free products have to remain palatable, or Americans will not purchase them. For instance, reduced-fat ‘Nilla Wafers have sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Look for reduced fat-free products that also have a sugar-free label to avoid those added sugars.

Other healthy snacks loaded with added sugar include flavored yogurt, canned fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter, and Nutella. Additionally, other nut-based butters, granola, milk alternatives like Almond milk, instant oatmeal, canned soup, trail mix, teriyaki sauce, salad dressing, and some 100% fruit juices are examples. Plain yogurt with fresh fruit is the best alternative to avoid added sugars.

“It was weird for me to begin a diet but watch the pounds pile on rather than all off,” Northeast D.C. resident Tasha Gill told The Informer. “I was consuming a lot of low-fat or fat-free products but had no idea the amount of sugar that was added to the products as fillers to make up for the loss of fat content.”

Gill said that after speaking with a dietician about her dilemma, she was “hipped” to the hidden sugars in most of the foods she believed were healthier options. She said she was dismayed to find that even lean meats had sugar added to enhance the taste.

Curing foods is another process that adds sugar to products. Sugar preserves food by attracting water molecules and allowing the product to retain its flavor and texture due to the addition of sugar. Not only does the deli meat in your sandwich have sugar but also the bread, and those yummy condiments, such as honey mustard. Sugar interacts with other ingredients to heighten or lessen flavors within a product such as barbeque sauce to create a tasteful flavor profile. It also balances the bitterness in ingredients like tomatoes. Yes, tomato-based products such as ketchup, and pasta sauce have added sugar.

But sugar is also added to other products we use daily. Elders used to lace medicine with sugar because it “helped it go down better.” Today, sweeteners are added to liquid drug formulations to reduce bitterness and are found most often in liquid forms of medication like cold and flu preparations. It is also commonly used as the placebo pill in most medication packets — particularly birth control pills.

Sugar is ubiquitous and can even be found in oral care products like mouthwash and toothpaste — listed as sorbitol. Yes, even as you clean your teeth to ward off cavities caused by sugar, you will find sugar in the cleaners.

To reduce the consumption of added sugar, reduce the serving size, read labels, and use fresh fruit and vegetables when feasible. Try brushing with natural products — like baking soda.

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