If you pay attention to dietary headlines, you’ve probably heard the fuss over foods with added sugars. And you might wonder: How could something so deliciously sweet be so potentially bad for your health?
Did you know that the average American adult consumes about 23 teaspoons of added sugar in a day? This is shocking news since the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day for adults (based on a 2,000 calorie intake).
For children, ages 2-18, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
First, it’s important to remember that sugars occur naturally in many foods, from milk to fruit. But that’s not the issue here.
Instead, we’re talking sugars, syrups and caloric sweeteners that are added to foods when they’re processed or prepared. And if their calories make up too much of your diet, you may not have enough room for other nutritious choices. Diets that limit added sugars are linked to a reduced risk of obesity and certain chronic diseases.
Where’s the extra sugar?
Everyone knows candy, cookies, cakes and regular sodas have added sugars. But added sugars are also listed on packaged food labels under dozens of different names. Among them: cane sugar, syrup, brown sugar and many words ending in “ose” (like fructose or dextrose).
“Added sugars can be a part of a nutritious diet—you don’t have to shun them all,” says dietician Jessica DiTommaso, RD, LD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with Joslin Diabetes Center at Southview Medical Center. “Sugars found naturally in milk, milk products, fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains are OK. However, you should limit them to less than 10 percent of your daily calories.”
To help cut back:
1. Choose naturally sweet fruits for desserts or snacks. Add fruit (instead of sugar) to cereal. Make a peanut butter sandwich with bananas or berries instead of jelly or jam.
2. Shop for foods with less or no added sugar. For instance, choose plain (instead of flavored) yogurt and add your favorite fruit. Try unsweetened applesauce and fruit canned in water or natural juices rather than heavy syrup. Become a label reader to find added sources of sugar.
3. Swap your usual sweetened soda, punch or energy drink for water, unsweetened tea and coffee, or low-fat milk. Flavored carbonated water is tasty for a change of pace.
4. When baking, try using only half the recommended sugar. Chances are nobody will notice.
5. Make candy, cookies and other sweets an occasional treat.
Limiting added sugars is just one of many smart things you can do to help ensure a healthy eating plan. For more ideas, check out choosemyplate.gov.