Day Three of 28 Days of Heart Health: Everything You Did (and Didn’t) Want to Know About Sugar


What does sugar have to do with heart health? Well, sugar consumption in the United States is ridiculously high, and manufacturers scheme by hiding sugar in just about everything thing, which leads to us consuming extra calories and spiking our blood sugar, which over time leads to obesity and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to diabetes, and diabetes damages all our internal organs–especially the heart. Combine that with high blood pressure and you have the perfect recipe for a heart attack. That’s why we invited celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, Co-Host of TLC’s hit series ‘Freaky Eaters’ in her #7 New York Times best seller, The Virgin Diet to give us some frank talk about the good, bad and ugly on the sweet stuff.

Take it away, JJ!


I get a lot of questions from readers and at conferences about sugar. It can be confusing to make sense of the numerous names for sugar or to determine what a serving size is, but hopefully my answers will help clarify things just like my email did for this reader.

Here are the most frequent questions I get about sugars and other sweeteners.

The Virgin Diet allows up to 5 grams of sugar per serving. Isn’t that a contradiction since you encourage people to be sugar free?

Contrary to what some people might think, The Virgin Diet is not a no sugar diet. I do allow up to 5 grams of sugar in, say, your protein shake. The Virgin Diet All-in-One Shake has 5 grams of sugar from cane sugar.
Source matters. I don’t want you getting that 5 grams from agave or high-fructose corn syrup! (More on those below.) To put 5 grams into perspective, just about every food you eat has some sugar in it. Two cups of broccoli, for instance, has about 5 grams of sugar.

But any more than about 5 grams and you’re risking raising your blood sugar and all its accompanying problems. Five grams is about a teaspoon, so picture a recipe having no more than a level teaspoon per serving.

Put another way: a 20-ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar.

How can I understand a label to see how much sugar I’m getting?

Labels list sugar in grams. A good rule of thumb is that 5 grams is about 1 teaspoon. So if a serving has 18 grams, you can picture getting 4-1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Keep in mind this is per serving, and manufacturers are notorious for keeping portion sizes small to give the illusion of less calories, fat, sugar, etc.

How do I become a sugar sleuth and find hidden sugars in my foods?

Manufacturers craftily disguise sugar in many forms. Some of them sound healthy, and others you’d have no idea they were actually sugar. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these 50 – yes, 50! – alternate names for sugar.
Barley malt
Beet sugar
Brown sugar
Buttered syrup
Cane juice crystals
Cane sugar
Corn syrup
Corn syrup solids
Confectioner’s sugar
Carob syrup
Castor sugar
Date sugar
Demerara sugar
Diastatic malt
Ethyl maltol
Fruit juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Glucose solids
Golden sugar
Golden syrup
Grape sugar
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Icing sugar
Invert sugar
Malt syrup
Maple syrup
Muscovado sugar
Raw sugar
Refiner’s syrup
Rice syrup
Sorghum syrup
Turbinado sugar
Yellow sugar

I can’t possibly keep up with that list! Isn’t there an easier way to detect sugar on a label?
Anything ending in –ose is a sure sugar bet. And, of course, if it has “sugar” in the title… well, duh, it’s sugar even if it’s organic or otherwise sounds healthy.

This still confuses me. What’s the best way to avoid added sugars?
Stick with a whole foods diet with plenty of lean protein, good fats, and leafy green veggies. Most whole foods are low in sugar. There are exceptions like some higher-sugar fruits (which I’ll mention below), but for the most part sticking with a whole foods diet will reduce your sugar intake and eliminate added sugars.