WHY IS THERE SUGAR IN MY KETCHUP?
B.S Food Science and Human Nutrition
Recently there has been a lot of attention given to the danger of excess sugar in our diet. This isn’t
without reason as it leads to Type II Diabetes, changes in metabolism, heart disease, and having a fluffier
midsection. But by you being a savvy consumer you have diligently refused that piece of wedding cake
and asked for the check after the main course of your favorite restaurant. You are taking charge of your
health and reducing your sugar intake!… or at least you hope.
Unfortunately, sugar was probably lurking in the yogurt you ate for breakfast, the dressing you put on
your salad for lunch, and the ketchup you dipped your baked sweet potato fries into for dinner. Sugar
has infiltrated so much of our food system these days that it’s in virtually everything (well except maybe
that piece of lettuce). 200 years ago the average annual sugar intake was 2 pounds per year. Today it’s
152 pounds per year or 3 pounds per week! That’s 5137 extra Calories that are being injected into your
body every week.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a statistic when it comes to sugar consumption and health
conditions. Yes food manufacturers are tricky with sugar, but they are mandated to list it on the label.
You just have to know what to look for. This article will help you learn key foods and different names
that sugar goes by so you know exactly what is on the other end of your fork.
But My Body Needs Sugar
Being aware that we are swimming in a sea of lethal sweetness is the first step to remove it from
your diet. Yes it is true that your brain runs solely off glucose (type of sugar molecule) and the rest of
your body needs it to function properly. But the amount needed can be attained solely from naturally
occurring sugars. Natural sugars are complex in nature and generally contain vitamins, minerals, and
fiber. The refined sugar used in processed foods is void of any other benefit besides sheer energy. So the
question is, “does your body process these sugars differently?” They may have the same caloric value
but complex sugars take time for your body to absorb. They slowly raise your blood sugar which leads
to a feeling of satiety and won’t cause your energy levels to spike then plunge. Simple sugars do almost
the complete opposite. They are metabolized quickly giving you a jolt that will take you down as fast as
it took you up. Besides the crash, overconsumption of simple sugars are prone to causing a depressed
immune system, dental carries, depression, insulin resistance, and weight gain. So yes, your body will
react differently to an apple than it will with a candy bar and making the choice of which one you want
for a snack everyday could have a significant impact on your health.
Where the Excess Sugar Is Lurking
The scary part of our food system is that unless it came directly from the ground, sugar has probably
been added to it. A saying in the food processing industry is “when in doubt, add sugar”. A top reason
they add sweetness is for the addictive quality it has on your brain. It increases the production of
serotonin which has a pleasurable and calming effect. Much like Pavlov’s dog, we learn to salivate over
the thought of foods that will give us that instant gratification. Our bodies become addicted to sugar and
we purchase those tasty yet gluttonous chips that were specifically designed to make you crave them.
Most food producers do not have your health in mind when they formulate products. The company’s
goal is to make a profit; and all their advertising of “low fat”, “reduced”, “new formula” won’t change
the fact that their foods are high in processed sugar.
Tricky Products With Added Sugar
This list may be a little shocking. Peanut butter shouldn’t be sweet until you sandwich it between two
slices of bread and add some gooey jam (which both have added sugar)! A normal sandwich has 37g of
sugar which is over the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 30g of sugar per day for an
adult female. Considering this sandwich is only one item in one meal out of one day, that’s a lot of sugar.
Now that you know some of the random places sugar likes to hide, you need to know the multitude of
names it goes by. Food manufacturers have realized that people consider sugar a 4-letter word and will
put the box back on the shelf if they see it on the label. Instead of removing or reducing the amount,
they use different names such as…
Fruit juice concentrate
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Evaporated Cane Juice
Designer Sugars, A Special Case
As detrimental as the sugars listed above can be to your health, they all can be found in varying
quantities in nature which means that your body with process them in a predictable way.
What’s truly frightening is that we still use artificial sweeteners in our food system. There has
been a war raging since the 1970’s about the safety of artificial sugars. In 1977 the FDA wanted
to ban saccharin due to studies indicating bladder tumors in mice fed the sweetener. Congress
overruled the FDA due to the public demand by the Diabetic community and kept Saccharin
on the market. There was a disclaimer on the label stating that it might cause cancer until the
Clinton administration removed it. Artificial sweeteners are recognized by the body as foreign
substances that must be discharged. In the process of excretion unfavorable chemical reactions
can occur and cause damage if allowed to build (aspartame produces formaldehyde in the body
which is a proven carcinogen).
There are five main artificial sweeteners used today that should be avoided at all costs.
Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet One)
Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low)
How To Protect Yourself From The Sugar Monster
Once you learn to recognize where sugar is hidden it becomes much easier to eliminate it. Here
are a few tips to try out at your next grocery visit.
1. Shop around the perimeter of the store. This is your safety zone where most of the
items are unprocessed such as produce and meat.
2. When you venture into the center aisles never just grab a box without browsing the
nutrition label. Try and aim for <10g of sugar per portion. Up to 15g is okay, but only if
that food is supposed to be sweet.
3. Make sure that the portion size is really what you’re going to eat. As much as we want a
sleeve of fig bars to be a serving, that’s not the case.
4. In products that should not have sugar, look at the ingredient list. If you see any form
of sweetener just put it back. There will be another brand without the sugar and it’s
probably hanging out in the “natural” section.
5. Be suspicious of any item marketed as being a diet product. If something is removed
(such as fat) it will be replaced by something else to make the food still palatable. And
that something else is most likely sugar. Look for the different types of sugar on the
After a shopping trip or two, you will quickly pick up on which products have hidden sugars and
you can easily steer clear of them. As you become an expert in how to avoid excess sweetness
you may notice that your food cravings subside, you have more energy, and those skinny jeans
fit just a little bit better. Remember that life isn’t about restriction but about making choices
that will help you live up to your potential. Live happy, live healthy, live tasty!
American Heart Association. Sugars and Carbohydrates. 11 June. 2012. <http://www.heart.org/
Avens, Jack. “Direct Food Additives”. Lecture for Food Safety. Colorado State University. Fort Collins, CO.
24 Oct. 2012
U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services. How Much Sugar do You Eat? You may be Surprised. July 2007.