Despite your best efforts to eat healthy, if you’re like most people, you’re unknowingly being sabotaged by high levels of added sugar contained in many of the foods you eat.
Soft drinks, breakfast cereals, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, protein bars, sports drinks, desserts, candy and even yogurt if it’s flavored usually contain high amounts of sugar.
Foods with a lot of added sugar add extra calories to your diet, which in turn may increase your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and possibly other health problems down the road. Regardless, added sugar provides little nutritional value.
In general, adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day. This is more than three times the recommended amount for women and more than twice for men.
The American Heart Association suggests no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) for women and nine (150 calories) for men. There are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon.
“Natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables isn’t the issue,” says Kelsey-Seybold Family Medicine physician Dr. Leonardo Espitia.
“The problem is the hidden sugars and sweeteners that are added to processed food, which most people aren’t aware of unless they take the time to read the nutritional content labels on food packages. These include white and brown sugar, honey, dextrose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, juice concentrate and high-fructose corn syrup.”
Reducing Your Intake
Dr. Espitia, who is NCQA-recognized for diabetes care, says to cut back on the added sugar in your diet, try the following tips:
- Pay attention to the label’s ingredients list for corn syrup, sugar, fructose and other sugars — the higher a particular ingredient is on the list, the more sugar.
- Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary, sodas or sports drinks and blended coffee drinks.
- When you drink fruit juice, make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice — better yet, squeeze your own or eat the fruit rather than juice.
- Choose breakfast cereals carefully and avoid the sugary and frosted cereals.
- Reach for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves. Use other condiments sparingly. Be aware that salad dressings and ketchup have added sugar.
- Opt for fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets, no matter how tempting.
- Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice, not syrup.
- Snack on vegetables, fruits, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers and low-fat, low-calorie yogurt.
Ease yourself off sugary foods slowly so your body has time to adjust. “Slower changes also are more apt to last when it comes to diet changes,” Dr. Espitia says.
Sidebar: Instead of Sugar
- Focus on healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado, dairy) and lean protein (eggs, turkey, and legumes). Both keep you feeling satiated and energized, averting the blood sugar rise and fall that can lead to sugar cravings.
- Turn to your spice rack to satisfy a sweet tooth. Cinnamon or vanilla extract added to coffee, cereal, or baked goods have zero calories. Other spices and herbs to add to beverages and meals: chicory, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom.
- Munch on 12 almonds or walnuts.
- Eat fresh or frozen (without sauces) fruits and vegetables.