Dietician Marissa Pappadakes says food labels tell the tale on added sugars.

The amount of sugar in our diets is steadily increasing and oftentimes we don't even think about it.

Sugar, and sometimes lots of it, is added to many of the foods we eat on a daily basis -- juices, pop, salad dressing, ketchup, breakfast cereals and coffee drinks.

To put it in perspective, one tablespoon of sugar has about 45 calories. Excessive intake of sugar is likely to cause weight gain, as well as lead to other health complications. A note of caution to shoppers: many food labels can be misleading and confusing. Look for words such as brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup, which indicate added sugar in the food product.

Shop smart by knowing what the following labeling terms mean:
"Sugar free": less than 0.5 grams per serving. (Beware, just because a food is labeled as "sugar free" it does not necessarily mean its carbohydrate or calorie free.) "No sugar added," "No added sugar," "Without added sugar": No sugars were added during processing/packing, sugar is not increased more than the natural sugars found in the product. "Reduced Sugar": the food contains at least 25 percent less sugar than the normal food product.
Also remember that some packages or bottles contain more than one serving. For example, a pint of orange juice is generally considered two servings, so be sure to check the serving size and multiply when necessary.

So what about artificial sweeteners, such as NutraSweet, Equal and Splenda? They are often incorporated into the diet to reduce calories and assist diabetics in controlling blood glucose. Artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, thus a smaller amount of the sugar alternatives are necessary to sweeten a food.

Can artificial sweeteners replace all of the sugar in baked goods? Home cooks know that they're often no substitute for the real thing. When sugar is replaced in the baking process, taste and appearance can be less than desirable. When baking with sugar alternatives it could be helpful to research baking tips and experiment with different proportions of sugar alternatives to produce a favorable and acceptable outcome.

Whatever the case, be aware of the food you're eating. There's no substitute for moderation.

Marissa Pappadakes is a registered dietician for Extendicare.