Wait, That's Sugar, Too?

Wait, That's Sugar, Too?

If you’re trying to watch your weight, chances are you’ve indulged in something sweet with a sugar substitute. It seems like a good way to enjoy a treat without all the calories, right?

These sugar substitutes are often made from high-intensity sweeteners that are many times sweeter than sugar. They're popular because they add only a few or no calories to foods.

Like all ingredients added to food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaving site icon regulates high-intensity sweeteners. Years ago, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) received a bad name for being very unhealthy. Researchers found that it contributes to obesity. How?

Most sugars, including white table sugar, agave syrup and molasses are processed from their original forms, which makes them safe and easy to eat. These natural sugars are made up of one part glucose (sugar found in tomatoes, onions and mushrooms) and one part fructose (sugar found in fruit and honey). HFCS is different. It is a highly processed form of corn sugar that has a higher amount of fructose than glucose. The body processes the fructose in a way that causes obesity.

HFCS’s Effects on Your Body

HFCS causes a spike in your body’s blood sugar level. The spike can last for quite some time before levels return to normal. The spikes affect your metabolism and can lead to obesity. HFCS also raises triglyceride levels and bad cholesterol (LDL). All these things boost your risk for obesity and heart disease.

The negative press has made people more aware of what they eat. More people read food labels to look for hidden sugars. To help, the FDA has approved a new name for dangerous sugar. High-fructose corn syrup is now labeled as HFCS-90. So, if you’re monitoring your sugar intake, be aware. Look for the HFCS-90 label and avoid those foods.

Log Your Sugar Intake

Watching your sugar intake is important for everyone — especially for people with diabetes. Using a food diary is a great way to track your sugar intake, along with the calories and nutrients you consume. Being well informed is a positive step toward bettering health. Good health means fewer doctor visits, less medication and, more energy.

Ways to Avoid HFCS
  • Choose fresh produce from your grocery store. Natural produce is the best source of the nutrients you need — including natural sugars.
  • Eat organic foods. The word “organic” is highly regulated on food labels. If you see something marked organic, it's safe to trust the food is free of HFCS.
  • Substitute sugars for no-calorie sweeteners. While there are many no-calorie choices that seem safe now, long-term use of artificial sweeteners is linked to cancer.
  • Look for these artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA on food labels: sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K).
  • Avoid sodas and bottled beverages other than water.
  • Skip the sweets. Your “sweet tooth” will diminish over time so sugar no longer has power over you.
  • Eat nature’s sugar when you crave something sweet — fruit!
Watch Out for HFCS Foods

HFCS is mostly found in packaged and processed foods. Skip these foods loaded with HFCS:

  • Juice cocktails
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Salad dressings
  • Ketchup
  • Breads and baked goods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Cereal
  • Fruit yogurts
  • Nutrition bars
  • Candy and candy bars

Your health is important, so read food labels and avoid foods laden with HFCS.

Do yourself another healthy favor: Take advantage of important health screenings covered by your health plan. This includes preventive services — such as blood glucose screening — that may be covered at no cost to you when you see an in-network provider.*

*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number listed on your member ID card.
Sources: Aspartame and Other Sweeteners in Food, leaving site icon U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Originally published 4/21/2016; Revised 2021, 2024