Trying to Avoid Sugar? You’re Probably Eating it Anyway

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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Trying to Avoid Sugar? You’re Probably Eating it Anyway

A survey of more than 11,000 U.S. consumers last year shows we’re paying more attention to how much sugar is in foods than they type of sugar—whether it comes from sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

The Sweetener360 study, commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association to discover out how consumers approach sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, found that 75 percent of consumers say they regularly or occasionally read the nutritional information or list of ingredients on food and beverage labels.

Not surprisingly, 50 percent of consumers are actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle and avoiding sugars—but the Corn Refiners Association wanted to know: do we discriminate? Yes, high fructose corn syrup has been demonized, but it turns out we’re more interested in avoiding added sugars as a whole rather than a specific type of sweetener. Only 4.6 percent of those polled read labels with the specific intent to avoid high fructose corn syrup.

While there are biochemical differences in how sugars, like fructose and glucose, are metabolized, consumers seem to be aware of the three key facts: sugar is sugar, less is better, and moderation is important. According to the study, “Sixty-seven percent of consumers agree that to be healthy, moderation is more important than sweetening ingredients.”

Whether it’s corn syrup, cane juice or raw, organic sugar in your morning bowl of cereal, we know that refined sweeteners are little more than empty calories—void of the healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients found in foods with naturally occurring sugars like fruit. The truth is, all added sugars, including natural sugars like honey and agave nectar, can have a negative impact on your triglycerides and blood sugar, and can increase your risk of weight gain and metabolic syndrome when consumed in excess over time.

But just because we claim to avoid added sugars doesn’t mean we actually are. In addition to showing we don’t discriminate between added sugars, purchase data shows sugar-conscious shoppers, “still buy sweetened products at the same rate,” as those who don’t actively try to avoid them.

Not surprisingly, the study also reveals taste and price largely drive our purchasing decisions. This makes sense. Sugar is cheap, it tastes good and it’s added to nearly every food on supermarket shelves.

It seems to me sweetener manufacturers have us just where they want us—convinced we’re making healthier choices and cutting back on sugar without actually doing so.

Are you just pretending to try to eat less sugar, or is the food supply so saturated that avoiding it is nearly impossible? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.


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