Q. The label says 2 tablespoons of Skippy peanut butter has 3 grams of added sugar. Isn’t that bad?
A. Three grams of sugar equates to 12 calories of sugar. This is far less sugar than is in the jelly that comes along with a PB&J sandwich! It's also a fraction of the sugar in sports drinks, gels and jellybeans. I would not blink an eye at three grams of sugar for an active person (or even an inactive person, for that matter.)
A standard nutrition guideline is that 10% of calories can appropriately come from refined sugar. That equates to about 240 to 300 calories (60-75 grams) of added sugar per day for most athletes. You can choose how you want to spend those sugar-grams. Some athletes like frozen yogurt, others like sports drinks, and some like Skippy peanut butter along with some jelly. Take your choice! Sugar fuels your muscles; it is not bad for you nor will it negate the healthfulness of other food you consume.
If you prefer all-natural peanut butter with no added sugar, that's fine. But I wouldn't choose it because it has less sugar. You might just end up adding more jelly, jam or honey?
Q. Should I avoid orange juice because it has too much sugar?
A. All the calories in orange juice come from sugar, but along with that (natural) sugar, you get abundant vitamin C (to boost your immune system), potassium (to protect against high blood pressure), folate (to protect against birth defects) and numerous other health-protective nutrients. The sugar in orange juice (and any type of sugar, for that matter) fuels your muscles. The vitamins and minerals that accompany the natural sugar in orange jucie are like spark plugs and help your body’s engine run stronger.
Nothing is wrong with sugar. The problem is too many calories of refined sugar (from soft drinks) that are void of nutritional assets. While drinking quarts of OJ a day could add excessive calories to your sports diet (but also tons of vitamin C), a glass or two adds a nutrient-dense beverage that is far better than anything your might get at the calorie-café (a.k.a coffee shop).
I’m far less concerned about the sugar in orange juice than I am about athletes avoiding OJ. Orange juice is a quick and easy form of fruit. If you aren't going to make time to peel an orange, grabbing a glass of OJ for a morning eye-opener is a handy alternative—and is far preferable to grabbing just a coffee-to-go. While eating the whole orange is nutritionally preferable to drinking just the juice, any form of fruit is better than none. So don’t stop drinking orange juice because it has “too much sugar.” Too many important nutrients come along with that natural sugar … nutrients that can enhance your performance.
For more information that can help you resolve your confusion regarding sugar and carbs, see Chapter 6 in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.