Sugar is a favorite among many, but the substance can add a lot of empty calories to food, which could also lead to weight gain.
For example, a 20-ounce bottle of non-diet cola can have up to 65 grams or more of sugar -- a majority of the soda's total calories. Many energy drinks also have high levels of sugar.
Rex Hospital registered dietician Natalie Newell, who counsels people with weight problems, diabetes and heart disease, said cutting back on sugar is one of the first and best steps people can take when wanting to lose weight.
Sugar habits, she said, often begins at a young age because high amounts of the sweet substance are found in popular children's foods, such as cereal and toaster pastries.
For example, a 1-cup serving of Kellogg's Fruit Loops is about 118 calories and contains about 14 grams of sugar -- meaning about 56 of the 118 calories is from sugar.
In grocery stores, the big sugar culprit is processed foods. Newell advises her patients to check nutrition and food labels for carbohydrates.
"You definitely want less than half -- only 20 percent to 25 percent -- of your total carbohydrates coming from sugar," she said.
And if sugar is among the first four ingredients on the food label, Newell recommends putting it back on the shelf.
But what about fruit? It contains natural sugar and is a better option.
"A calorie is a calorie, but when you take a 3-inch chocolate-chip cookie and compare it to (a) peach, that peach has water, fiber and vitamins and minerals."
And unlike sugar, fruit also makes a person feel fuller for a longer period of time. Sugar from processed foods, soda and candy is like an injection of energy, Newell said, that digests very quickly and leaves a person with quick highs and lows in their blood-sugar levels.
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