• Regan Talley

Added Sugars Aren't So Sweet For Your Health

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Look, let’s face it, sugar tastes AMAZING. It has the unique ability to liven up any meal and make even the most bitter drinks taste decadent. Growing up, sugar was the center of some of my favorite childhood memories. Baking Christmas cookies with my grandma is easily one of the best times of the season, and how could I forget waking up on Easter morning to find a basket filled to the brim with chocolate? In elementary school, every Valentine’s Day, my entire class would be presented with white paper bags stuffed with pink and red treats. At Thanksgiving, my mom has this tradition of baking a delicious cheesecake, but the catch is that she never uses the same recipe twice -- and let me tell you, it’s my favorite part of the entire meal. While there is nothing wrong with a sweet treat now and then, it becomes a major health problem when our diet is laden with added sugars. It’s especially troubling as consumers, considering most of us don’t even realize that the products we are buying can be a major contributor to the problem.

First, I need to make a distinction between added sugars and naturally-occurring sugars. Added sugars are any type of sugar or sweetener that’s added to food and drinks to make them taste better [5]. Shockingly, there are about 61 terms that can be listed on the ingredient list to describe sugar [5]. This includes terms like corn syrup, molasses, raw sugar and anything that ends in “ose,” which refers to sugar molecules like fructose [5]. Naturally-occurring sugars, on the other hand, are found in foods like milk and fruit [5]. The main difference between the two is that naturally occurring sugars are filled with fiber, making them a sustainable source of energy [5]. That is why no one will ever get a sugar high from eating a strawberry – dipped in chocolate however, it’s a different story.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar a day, which adds up to roughly 100 calories [1]. For men, the amount of added sugar per day is a little higher, tapping out at nine teaspoons a day -- or 36 grams -- for 150 calories [1]. In reality, however, the average American consumes about double that amount, taking in around 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar a day [1]. Studies show that diets this high in sugar can lead to heart risks such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels [2].

The problem lies in deceptive marketing and advertising techniques. With food companies utilizing clever packaging and text that dances around the truth of its products, consumers are easily misled into the trap of believing they’re eating something healthy. Take for instance fruit juices, which often are labeled “made from 100% juice,” leaving most consumers to believe they are choosing a delicious alternative to a sugary can of soda. Now, this is VASTLY different from consuming an actual piece of fruit. When you are eating an apple, the sugar from the fruit is easily digested from the fiber and the body produces energy [3]. That bottle of fruit juice, however, contains fruit juice concentrate. This means the fruit is heavily processed to remove all the fiber and minerals [3]. What’s left behind is just the sugar, categorizing this product into the realm of added sugars [3]. Innocent mistakes like this lead a majority of Americans into believing they are consuming a “natural” form of sugar that’s good for them.

While this is just one of many examples, it demonstrates the lack of transparency between consumers and large food production companies. As consumers, we must understand the power of the image. As we scan the aisles of our grocery stores, we rely on the colorful packaging of every product to tell us all the information we need to know. As Regina Luttrell states in her book, Social Media: How to Engage, Share and Connect, the brain, “process[es] visuals an astounding 60,000 times faster than written language" [4]. While it is the business’s responsibility to communicate the ingredients and perceived “healthiness” of its product, it is our responsibility as consumers to flip the container over and read the ingredients and amount of sugar found on the nutrition label.

Against that backdrop, public relations practitioners within the food industry have their work cut out for them. Instead of dancing around the truth through deceptive packaging, food companies must disclose the nutrition information about products in their entirety to earn the trust of their customers. This must be a choice made not only by the manufacturers themselves but also in partnership with the regulating bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), that oversee all food production. Only then will the fragmented relationship between the consumer and the manufacturer be restored.


[1] American Heart Association News. “Added Sugars.” American Heart Association. April 17. 2018. Accessed November 22, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars

[2] American Heart Association News. “Kids and Added Sugars: How Much is too Much?” American Heart Association. August 22, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/kids-and-added-sugars-how-much-is-too-much

[3] Luttrell, Regina (2019). Social Media: How to Engage, Share and Connect (3rd edition). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[4] Northwestern Medicine. “More Sugar, More Problems [Infographic].” Northwestern Medicine. Accessed November 22, 2020. https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/nutrition/more-sugar-more-problems

Photo originally taken from New York Times's article, “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat," and edited with Lightroom.

Original image: New York Times. “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat” September 12, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2020.


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