Welcome to Lark Badges: Sugar

Sugars are types of carbohydrates. They supply 4 calories per gram. That means, like any type of calorie-containing nutrient, consuming too much can lead to weight gain.

Daily limit for a green badge: 40 grams (25 grams for Lark Diabetes)

Meal limit for a green badge: 13 grams (8 grams for Lark Diabetes)

Why your Lark Coach suggests limiting added sugar

Sugars are types of carbohydrates. They supply 4 calories per gram. That means, like any type of calorie-containing nutrient, consuming too much can lead to weight gain. It is easy to eat too much sugar not only because it tastes so good (to most people), but because it is often in calorie-dense foods, or foods that have a lot of calories in a small serving (for example, a cup of chocolate candies has 600 calories, while a cup of plain oatmeal has 150 calories). 

The research agrees, as studies link sugar consumption to obesity, as well as other conditions. High sugar consumption raises levels of triglycerides in the blood and may be a risk factor for heart disease. In fact, adults who are not obese but who eat excess sugar may be at higher risk for heart problems.

Sugar has another characteristic that can lead to health problems. Since it is a simple carbohydrate, your body can break it down and absorb it quickly. This leads to spikes in blood sugar and an exaggerated insulin response. Too much of this for too long increases risk for prediabetes and diabetes.

This is a list of some increased risks linked to sugar consumption.

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Tooth decay
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Certain cancer

On top of everything else, there just isn’t much that is good about added sugars. Sugar is not an essential nutrient, and it does not come with any vitamins or minerals. Eliminating added sugars entirely would not lead to any nutrient deficiencies.

Added versus natural sugars

The negative effects of sugar, and Lark’s coaching to limit sugars, are in reference to what are called “added sugars.” Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods. They can be derived by isolating them from beet, sugar cane, or corn, and other possibilities include honey, molasses, and syrup. These and other forms of sugar can sweeten foods and have other properties, such as adding volume and weight.

Natural sugars are found in whole foods. The sugar itself acts the same in your body as added sugars, but, unlike added sugars, natural sugars tend to be in nutrient-dense foods. For example, fruit is a source of natural sugar, especially a type called fructose, but it also contains antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is linked to health benefits.

Top Sources of Sugar in Americans’ Diets*

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and sports drinks.
  • Snacks and sweets, such as cake, cookies, brownies, doughnuts, ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard, candy, syrups, jam, pies, cinnamon rolls
  • Grains, such as sugar-sweetened cereal, granola bars, bread, pancakes, oatmeal.
  • Mixed dishes, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce, sweet and sour chicken
  • Dairy products
  • Condiments, spreads, salad dressings, such as peanut butter, barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hoisin sauce

*Source: US Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020

Where added sugars may be lurking

There are many different names for and types of sugar. Added sugars may be in some surprising places. These are some words and products to check.

  • Sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup
  • Molasses, honey, turbinado sugar, sugar in the raw
  • Syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar
  • Cane juice, dehydrated cane juice, cane crystals
  • Dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, invert sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate (e.g., pear juice concentrate)
  • Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and other beverages, such as sports drinks, coffee beverages, sweetened tea, fruit drinks including lemonade and fruit punch
  • Dairy desserts, such as ice cream, pudding, custard, frozen yogurt
  • Baked sweets, such as muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, pastries
  • Candy, jam, jelly
  • Sugar-sweetened flavored yogurt (often low-fat or whole milk) and flavored oatmeal
  • Many breakfast cereals, such as Honey Nut Cheerios, raisin bran, Total, bran flakes, most kids’ cereals, Chex, All-bran
  • Granola, protein, cereal, and meal replacement bars
  • Sweet and sour sauce, teriyaki sauce, honey mustard dip, barbecue sauce, hoisin sauce

Tips for limiting added sugar

  • The list of ingredients on food packages lists ingredients in order from most to least in the product, so foods with sugars listed first, second, or third are usually high in sugar.
  • Nutrition facts panels list sugar, and some list added sugars so you can choose lower-sugar products.
  • Many healthy-sounding foods are high in sugar. For example, bran flakes have 7 grams per ounce and tomato soup has 12 grams of sugar per cup.
  • Cutting dessert in half and adding a piece of fruit instead can reduce added sugars and add nutrients.
  • Unsweetened chocolate, fresh fruit, and nuts can help curb sugar cravings.
  • Water is a sugar-free, calorie-free, and free beverage.

Ideas for getting by with less sugar

  • Pancakes made with cinnamon and banana slices or diced apples and no sugar, and topped with cottage cheese.
  • Oatmeal cocoa muffins made with oats, baking cocoa, and mashed ripe bananas, along with milk, eggs, baking powder, and salt.
  • Tomato soup with low-sodium broth, onion, tomato paste, canned or fresh tomatoes, bay leaf, Italian seasonings, and to sweeten it, pureed cooked daikon or turnip instead of sugar.
  • Stir fry with chicken, shrimp, or tofu, vegetables, garlic, onion, and, instead of sugar-laden teriyaki sauce, diced pineapple and low-sodium soy sauce.
  • Baked apples topped with cinnamon and walnuts for a dessert on its own or as a topping for oatmeal or mix-in for yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • Strawberries or banana chunks dipped into melted unsweetened (or at least 85% cocoa dark) chocolate and (optional) crushed peanuts.