The Sugar “Rule”

Think of the sugar “rule” as a guideline for choosing healthier meals and snacks. This guideline will help you decipher nutrition labels and make healthier choices that fill you up and keep you satisfied. Don’t focus on “good” or “bad” foods, but think about creating a desirable eating pattern with the assistance of this guideline.

So what is the sugar “rule”? It is a simple mathematical equation (so simple you don’t need a calculator). First, add the grams of dietary fiber to the grams of protein. Second, compare the fiber+protein to the grams of sugar. The total number of fiber+protein should be greater than the grams of sugar. The equation is simple, but you may be surprised what foods fit within this rule and which do not.

Dietary Fiber (grams)+ Protein (grams) > Sugar (grams)

Take Greek yogurt. Everyone thinks yogurt, and especially Greek yogurt, is healthy. But, use this rule to separate the glorified dessert from the nutritious choice. Take this vanilla flavored Greek yogurt:

Vanilla flavored Greek yogurt

It may look healthy, but lets apply the sugar “rule”. Looking at this nutrition label we can see that one individual yogurt cup (5.3OZ) of vanilla Greek nonfat yogurt contains 120 calories, 18 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein. Lets put this to the test:

0 g fiber + 12 g protein < 18 g sugar [This does not fit the rule!]

Looking at the first four ingredients we can see that this yogurt is made from milk, water, sugar, and fructose (a type of sugar) in that order. So the third and fourth ingredients in this yogurt are sugar. A total of 18 grams of sugar and only 12 grams of protein. More sugar than fiber and protein. Not the best choice. Lets compare with plain nonfat Greek yogurt from the same brand.

Plain nonfat Greek yogurt, the only ingredient is milk

Plain Greek yogurt has only 6 grams of sugar. This is not added sugar, as is the case with the vanilla yogurt. Yogurt’s sugar content comes from lactose (a type of carbohydrate) that is found naturally in milk — so yes there is sugar, but it is like the sugar found naturally in fruit and not an added sweetener. One serving of pain Greek yogurt has 15 grams of protein (naturally found in the milk) and 0 grams of fiber (milk does not have fiber), it also only has 80 calories (compared to 120 calories in the same volume of vanilla yogurt). When you use this rule:

0 g fiber+ 15 g protein > 6 g sugar [This does fit the rule!]

Plain Greek yogurt fits the rule! It has more protein and fiber than sugar. The fiber and the protein together will help to keep you full and satisfied, making it a good snack/meal choice. While vanilla Greek yogurt is more of a sweet treat than a balanced snack.

That 13 gram sugar difference between plain and vanilla yogurt equates to more than 3 teaspoons of sugar (4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar). The vanilla yogurt has a total of 18 grams of sugar, or 4 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. That’s the same as 2/3rds of a Snickers Bar. We expect cookies, cakes, ice cream, and candy bars to be laden with sugar — but added sugars can be lurking in “healthy” foods as well.

The goal with the sugar rule is to be more aware of the sugar we are all eating and help us choose foods higher in fiber and protein. Two things that will keep us full and satisfied, not reaching for a snack in an hour.

We know cookies have added sugar, but we don’t expect to find sugar in our bread, pasta sauce, or yogurt. Sugar doesn’t contain any essential vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, or other dietary benefits. It just provides delicious taste. Is sugar the enemy? Not quite. But the World Health Organization recommends keeping sugar intake to less than five percent of total calories. For a normal weight adult, that’s only about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, daily!

Knowing where to find added or “hidden” sugar is half the battle. Now you can decide if you want the sugared yogurt or if you would rather have half of a Snickers bar and the plain yogurt.

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