Sugar Surprise! Why It’s Important To Read Labels

There’s been some recent hoopla about beverages. Some coffee shops have come under fire for “hiding” sugar in their lattes, teas and hot chocolates. Of course, if you read nutrition labels, you already knew what you were drinking … you read labels, right?  Well if you don’t, you should start. 

I love a good latte. Caramel, mocha, hazelnut, you name it. I’ve never met a latte I didn’t like. But more importantly, I’ve never met a latte I didn’t research. It may sound obsessive, but before I get one, I look up the nutritional content online—sometimes even while in line. I do this for two reasons. First, I can see how many calories I’m consuming. While lattes are delicious, a large cup can easily provide me with one meal's worth of calories. Maintaining, or losing weight requires energy balance, or balancing calories so that over time you consume as many or more calories than you burn. A 500-calorie latte every day, along with my other meals and snacks—even if they’re healthful—could cause me to gain weight, especially if I’m not staying active.

Second, I like to see what’s in my latte. And no, I’m not talking about food-safe ingredients or scientifically-proven safe “genetically modified” food. I’m talking about macronutrients like protein, fats, and carbohydrates—in this case, sugars. You know sugars are carbohydrates, right? If you don’t, you’re not alone, only 32 percent of Americans understand that all sugars are carbs.)

There’s nothing wrong with consuming carbs. In fact, you should be consuming them. Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that should provide the majority of your calories. Severely limiting carbohydrate intake can cause low blood sugar, resulting in fatigue and dizziness. Carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal, whole grain pasta and brown rice can offer the body many important vitamins and minerals like fiber, B vitamins and iron.

Of course, this doesn’t mean to go all out. While it’s important to incorporate whole grains and carbohydrate-rich foods in the diet, sugars should be limited. Foods with sugars can taste great, offer beneficial nutrients and be included in a healthy diet. Sugars themselves, however, supply calories but no nutrients.

Luckily, I don’t look to my latte for nutritional value—I look to it for pleasure. For me, my latte is a splurge. I only get one a week (maybe two if the week was particularly rough). There’s nothing wrong with a splurge, but keep it sensible and in moderation.

So the next time you’re in line for a large misto or iced cappuccino, make sure you check the labels. We can get so consumed over food being organic or local, but at the end of the day that doesn’t make us healthy, nor can it manage weight. If you want to know what’s in your food—and how that can affect your health—just read the label.