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updated: 9/19/2011 10:22 AM

Learn what's what in added sugar

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Picture, if you will, 26 five-pound bags of sugar lined up on your kitchen table. That's a lot of sugar, right?

Now consider this: Those bags represent how much added sugar we each consume in a year, according to a 2009 USDA report. Not sugar we naturally get from eating an orange or drinking a glass of apple juice, but sugar that food manufacturers add to their products.

How can you find (and therefore avoid) that sometimes diet-derailing sugar? The answer is not always obvious by scanning an ingredient label for the word "sugar."

Raw sugar, turbinado sugar and invert sugar all contain sugar in their names, so that's a gimme. Raw and turbinado sugars both are minimally processed cane sugar, but take note: gram for gram those versions deliver the same number of calories as granulated sugar.

Invert sugar, a syrupy liquid, frequently can be found in candy, a product in which you'd expect to find sugars.

Sometimes sugar goes by other names.

High fructose corn syrup, for instance, sounds like it's syrup, not sugar. The two components that make up HFCS -- glucose and fructose -- are the exact same components that comprise granulated sugar. The difference? Granulated sugar's a 50/50 mix of fructose and glucose while HFCS is 55/45 mix fructose and glucose. Measure for measure, HFCS delivers slightly more calories than granulated sugar but our bodies react similarly to them.

Honey, too, has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose than granulated sugar, yet by weight, honey delivers fewer calories than cane sugar because honey contains about 17 percent water. Measured by the tablespoon, however, honey contains more calories.

Molasses and maple sugar sure don't look like the fine white stuff you sprinkle in your tea, but they're sugars as well. Processing sugar cane, grapes and sugar beets creates a byproduct called molasses, a blend of sucrose, glucose and fructose that delivers 10 calories more per tablespoon than granulated sugar. Maple syrup on the other hand, has a slightly lower sugar content than granulated sugar.

There are many sweeteners you might see on ingredient lists as well: agave nectar, barley malt syrup, corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, lactose, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose, rice syrup, sorghum (similar to, but not the same as molasses), sucrose syrup and xylose.

How can a busy shopper remember all of this? Start with the Food Facts label that lists the amount of sugar by weight. The higher that number, the more sugar that product contains. Remember, that number represents all that product's sugars, not just the added sugars.

Yes, it takes some doing to read through ingredient lists to see if and how much sugar's really in them, the time is well worth the effort. As an informed shopper you can truly make healthy buying decisions.

Try this recipe: Almost 20 years ago, chicken paprikash was one of the first dishes I took from high fat to low. My recipe required browning whole chicken breasts and then simmering them for 18-20 minutes, ending-up with nicely cooked chicken and mushy onions and green peppers. This new version cooks faster and finishes better. Give it a try.

• Don Mauer welcomes comments, questions and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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