While most Americans know more than ever about the ingredients in their food and drinks, many are still actively consuming massive amounts of added sugar. Some may be surprised to find out that a lot of this added sugar is actually coming from the beverages they drink, from soda to smoothies. These added sugars have been easy to overlook because of things like complex ingredient names and confusing labeling. We partnered with Panera to shed light on the fact that your drinks might be packed with more added sugar than you even realize.
“There are many people consuming a whole lot of added sugar, more than we as a population had historically been consuming,” explained Rochelle Sirota, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist. “It is more, obviously, in desserts, pastries, candy [and] ice cream; but it also [can be found] in high-sugar beverages, such as soft drinks, coffee-based beverages, cocktails, smoothies, fruit punch, lemonade and iced tea.”
Unlike naturally occurring sugar that is found in fruits and vegetables, added sugar is the sugar and sugar syrup that is mixed into food and beverages when they are prepared and processed. Even beverages that aren’t sweet like flavored almond milk, or are perceived as healthy, like smoothies, may contain added sugar.
“When aiming to reduce consumption of added sugar, the consumer should read nutrition labels on packaged foods,” suggested Sirota, who also suggests researching nutritional information beyond the labels.
The reason a lot of people might not know how much added sugar is in their beverages, is that the labeling can be hard to understand. Added sugar may be hiding on the ingredient label under a name like glucose, maltose, sucrose, corn sweetener or high-fructose corn syrup. Also, sugar on nutritional labels is required to be measured in grams, which can cause confusion for consumers trying to calculate their sugar intake. Presenting added sugar through an additional unit of measurement like teaspoons can help consumers recognize the amounts more easily.
Fortunately, many restaurants and brands are opting for clearer labeling. Some are even reducing or eliminating added sugars from their beverages. These initiatives will hopefully help people understand the amount of sugar they are consuming, so they can make healthy and informed decisions.
Panera Bread has committed to offering moderately sweetened and no added sugar beverages along with labeling calories and added sugar in its beverages at the point of pour and on the cup. To see how others are improving the way we eat, check out Food Interrupted, a six-part series by Panera, produced in partnership with Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake and ACE Content, that sheds light on these hardworking chefs, tastemakers and community heroes who are helping to change America’s food system.