By: Carter Comstock

I’ve been wary of sugars for a while now. As a total health nut, I’ve always attended wellness conferences and stayed up on the latest research—then experimented with my diet, exercise, sleep and mindfulness routines, accordingly. I felt better when I ate healthier, avoiding processed foods and limiting my sugar intake, and I loved helping others do it, too. As a hobby, I’d write out meal plans for friends to help them make healthier choices. So when Mike and I were starting Freshly, it was really important to me that we make a conscious effort to significantly limit sugars in particular.

Clearly, we were onto something, because more and more reports have vilified sugar and tied it to serious health issues. New legislation has big implications for food brands: By 2020, FDA regulations require food purveyors to disclose “added sugar” on nutrition labels, an initiative that came about because science has proven a correlation between diets high in sugar and diseases like obesity and heart disease. Transparency sounds like a step in the right direction: a new study found that these labels could end up saving the health care system $31 billion and preventing nearly a million new cases of disease.

Many food companies, including Freshly, have already released their new labels, which are intended to help consumers make “better informed decisions.” At Freshly, our nutrition and culinary teams develop balanced meals that are nutrient-rich, delicious, avoid processed foods and low in sugar. We already updated our labels, and we’re proud to provide this transparency into our nutrition facts. On average, there are just 2g of added sugar in our meals, which have generous portions and contain under 500 calories. For reference, the average American consumes 77 grams of added sugar per day and 3600 calories, which is way above the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendation.

But these regulations don’t solve the problem, or require food companies to alter their recipes — nor do they help people figure out how to eat less sugar at home. There’s still a lot of confusing information to wade through. And, while “added sugars” are the main target and a great place to start, they aren’t the only place sugar hides.

The Problem With Hidden Sugar

There are 60+ different names for sugar on a label, and the way Big Food has tried to obscure it is actually somewhat nefarious (sugar is addictive, so you end up craving more, which makes them more money). Some alternative names used in ingredient lists include anhydrous dextrose, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and lactose.

The point is, you have to look closer and read between the lines. Keep in mind, “added sugar” is just the stuff that’s, well, added on top of whatever sugars are already naturally occurring in the food. For instance, a fresh-picked strawberry doesn’t have any added sugar, but there’s a good amount of natural sugars. Now, think about strawberry yogurt — there’s the sugar from the strawberries, but also the sugar from the milk…and there’s also the added sugars the company added to make it taste better. So it’s important to look at the “Total Sugars” on the Nutritional Facts panel, which includes both naturally occurring and added sugar in food.

How to Make Healthier Choices

You can see how it’s very easy to eat a lot of sugar, even if you think you’re “eating healthy.”

But I’m not here to scare you. I just want to help you make better choices, especially when it comes to sugar. I’ve said before that I’m a fan of swaps — little decisions here and there that add up and can have a dramatic impact on your health. The new labels are a step in the right direction, but knowledge is power, so it’s important to understand how much sugar you’re consuming and how to make healthier swaps that can make a significant difference in the long run. Some easy changes I’m a fan of:

  • Use a little bit of honey instead of refined sugar (This is often what Freshly does because it’s a lesser of evils — honey is in a more natural state and has vitamins & minerals versus white table sugar.)
  • Try to go with the option that has less total sugar on the nutrition label. Have a RX or Kind bar instead of a Snickers (they contain simpler, more natural ingredients), or Halo Top instead of Ben & Jerrys.
  • Drink flavored sparkling water instead soda.
  • Eat fruit, instead of fruit-flavored things.
  • Cut the sugar from your coffee (also, keep in mind that the lactose in the milk is sugar, too). Use cinnamon, unsweetened almond milk or unsweetened coconut milk instead.

Now, I don’t want you to take away that I hate sugar or that I deprive myself of sweets. That is far from the truth. I find sugar as delicious and addictive as the next person. In fact, we recently launched Freshly Finds, a curated selection of “better for you” snacks and treats that contain minimal added sugars. I simply pay attention to ingredients and how they make me feel, I read the latest research, and I try new things and I share what works. The cumulative effects of these shifts over the course of the years can be massive, without having a huge impact on your regular eating habits or making you feel like you’re sacrificing.

Transparency Is the Goal

Ultimately, Freshly is not a “diet” — we’re not sugar-free, we’re not vegan, we’re not paleo; We believe in balance and moderation, not sacrifice. We believe in practical, sustainable solutions. It’s why we use added sugars consciously and judiciously. We know abstinence doesn’t work — you always want the forbidden fruit. So we want to give you options to make it easier to eat healthier. Because every decision counts, and those choices are a lot easier when you don’t have to think as much, when you can just trust that the food you’re eating was designed to be healthy and wholesome while not sacrificing on taste.

I’ve armed you with information you need about sugar — and thus power. Use it to make a conscious effort to be more aware of the sugar you’re consuming and see how that makes you feel. If you significantly reduce the sugar in your diet, I know you will feel better, and I hope that creates the same empowering effect on you that it had on me.