By Lorraine Matthews-Antosiewicz
Consciously or not, the average American consumes 28 teaspoons of added sugars a day – that’s more than 90 pounds of sugar per year. The American Heart Association recommends women limit their added sugar to just 100 calories per day (6 teaspoons) and men to 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons). So, the bottom line is that most of us eat way too much. Read on to learn why this can be a problem and what you can do about it.
What’s the problem with added sugar?
If you eat or drink too much added sugar it can lead to health problems including tooth decay, overweight and obesity, difficulty controlling type 2 diabetes, higher triglyceride levels, and possibly heart disease. In addition, sugar is made up of “empty calories” – calories unaccompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Too much empty calories can crowd healthier foods from your diet.
What’s the difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar?
Added sugar is the sugar that manufacturers add to processed foods and drinks while they are being made. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats; fruit drinks; ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like; candy; and ready-to-eat cereals. The sugar you add to your food at home is another source.
Naturally occurring sugar, on the other hand, is the sugar found in whole, unprocessed foods, such as milk, fruit, vegetables, and some grains. One of the most common natural sugars is fructose, which is found in fruit. Another common natural sugar is lactose, which is found in milk.
How can I figure out how much added sugar I am consuming?
Start by looking at the Nutrition Facts Label on your food or drink package. Keep in mind that food manufacturers do not have to list naturally occurring sugars and added sugars separately on the label. However, at least you can see how much “total sugar” is in each serving. If you divide the number of grams of total sugar by four, that’s how many teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting. For example, if the Nutrition Facts Label says that a food or drink contains 40 grams of sugar per serving, that information tells you that 1 serving contains 10 teaspoons of sugar (equal to 160 calories).
Next, check the ingredient list which lists ingredients in order by amount with the largest amount listed first. Look for the word “sugar” or one of its many sweet aliases. If one of these ingredients is listed among the first few, the food or drink is likely high in added sugar.
How can I cut down on my consumption?
To make it easy, here are 10 simple ways to minimize added sugar in your diet:
- Don’t add it to foods. This is the easiest and most basic way to immediately reduce the amount of sugar you’re eating. Biggest targets: cereal, coffee and tea.
- Skip sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks; and choose water instead.
- Limit your consumption of fruit juice. When you do have it, make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice – not juice drink that has added sugar. Better yet, have fresh fruit rather than juice.
- Choose breakfast cereals carefully. Scan the ingredient list for unwanted sugar and sugar aliases. Try to choose brands that contain more total fiber grams than total sugar grams. Skip the colorful and frosted brands.
- Go easy on condiments. Salad dressings and ketchup have added sugar. So do syrups, jams, jellies and preserves. Use them sparingly.
- If you eat canned fruit, choose the one packed in water or juice, not syrup.
- Cut way back on processed foods. These are often high in added sugar, as well as sodium and fat.
- Skip the cookies, cake, pies, ice cream and other sweets. Instead, choose naturally sweet fruit for your after-dinner treat.
- Watch out for “fat-free” snacks. Fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free, and most fat-free snacks are loaded with sugar.
- Look for recipes that use less sugar when you are cooking or baking.