It’s a fact: Americans love sugary-sweet foods and drinks, but there are easy ways to ditch the excess sugar without sacrificing flavor.
Sugar and spice make everything nice. Well, that’s not exactly how the saying goes, but truth be told, most of us would find a little something sweet at the top of our “three foods I crave the most” list.
Simply put, we love sugar! And according to the American Heart Association (AHA), soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes and cookies are the major sources of added sugars in our diet. Not to mention, we’re not just indulging our sweet tooth on special occasions. Sugar has increasingly become a part of our everyday fare, so much so that our consumption of added sugars grew 20 percent from 1987 to 1997. In fact, according to the AHA, our total caloric intake has increased steadily, on average 150 to 300 calories per day over the past 30 years. Many of these calories are coming from added sugars in sweetened beverages.
In August 2009, the AHA released guidelines for how much added sugar people should consume. Here’s what you need to know to stay sweet yet sugar savvy:
- Sugar doesn’t contribute much more than extra calories. Odds are, if you’re filling up on too many added sugars, you may not be consuming adequate amounts of healthful nutrients that foods like fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains provide. In addition, added sugars have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, increased triglyceride levels and inflammation – potentially increasing risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
- Added vs. naturally occurring sugars – Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars include any sugars or syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation, such as those found in soft drinks and cookies, or sugar we add to coffee and tea. Currently, food labels don’t distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars, so it’s best to check the ingredient list to get a sense of where sugars may be creeping in. Sugars have many names and include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose and syrup.
- Look for foods with limited or no added sugars. For example, a 6-ounce fruited yogurt (a healthy food that contains plenty of calcium for strong bones) contains approximately 9 grams of naturally occurring sugar (lactose). But as you check the ingredient list you will also find added sugars. To limit your intake of added sugar from yogurt, try eating plain yogurt with fresh fruit, or look for those brands with lesser amounts. Many have as much as 2 teaspoons more added sugars than others. Every teaspoon you save adds up!
- New guidelines – According to the new AHA guidelines, a prudent intake of added sugars is based on one half of a person’s discretionary daily calorie intake. Discretionary calories are those “extra” calories that don’t provide as many of the essential vitamins, minerals, fibers and phytochemicals for optimum health. They include things like sugar, alcohol and extra servings of fat (dressings, chips, etc.). For most American women, that equates to 100 calories of added sugar (6 teaspoon) per day, and for men, 150 calories of added sugar (9 teaspoon) per day. Currently, data suggests that Americans get an astounding 22 teaspoon of added sugar per day (355 calories).
- To Calculate Teaspoons – There are 4 grams of sugar and 16 calories in 1 teaspoon of sugar. To calculate teaspoons of sugar in a product, divide the total amount of sugar listed on the food label by four. A can of cola with 39 grams of sugar contains 9.75 teaspoons of sugar!
Easy Ways to Reduce Sugar
If you now realize you’re ingesting way too much sugar, there are ways to cut down without cutting out your favorite foods or skimping on flavor. You can:
- Avoid or cut down on sugar-containing beverages like cola, lattes, smoothies, sports drinks, sweetened ice teas, and fruit drink beverages that contain corn syrup. Regular soft drinks contribute approximately 33 percent of all added sugars consumed;
- Cut back on the amount of sugar added to cereal, pancakes, coffee and tea. Try cutting the amount you use in half;
- Avoid fruit in heavy canned syrup – use canned in its own juice. Better yet, eat fresh fruit that’s in season;
- Add fresh or dried fruits to hot and cold cereals;
- Try reducing the sugar in recipes by one-third – often you won’t notice the difference;
- Try spices, including ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg; and
- Try flavoring with almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
Heidi Kramer is a nutrition specialist and inspirational speaker who has inspired thousands to lose weight, change bad eating habits and become champions of their own health for more than 20 years. Kramer is available at Cary Physical Therapy for individual counseling and group programs. Reach her at 847.516.9038.