Americans get an astonishing 16 percent of their calories from added sugar. Sugar has little nutritional value and provides unnecessary calories to our diets. Each teaspoon of sugar contains about 16 calories and virtually no vitamins or minerals. Frequent sugar intake has also been linked to dental cavities.
But don’t panic just yet. You don’t have to eliminate sugar entirely from your diet; just consume it in moderation. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume no more than 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar per day.
Checking the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food for the sugar content seems logical, but these labels can be misleading. The grams of sugar on the label include both added and natural sugar.
For example, an 8-ounce serving of unflavored milk has 12 grams of milk sugar (lactose), but that sugar is naturally there along with protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A. In contrast, chocolate milk has 24 grams of sugar, half of which is added sugar.
The best way to see whether a food has a lot of added sugar is to look at the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed according to the quantity used in the product. If sugar and other ingredients that are synonymous with sugar are listed among the first few ingredients on the label, you will know that the product contains a lot of added sugar.
Other names used for sugar include sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose and maltose. Also, be mindful of the many different forms of sugar like high fructose corn syrup, honey, syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar and raw sugar.
To cut back on your sugar intake:
- Limit your intake of concentrated sweets such as cookies, cakes, ice cream and soft drinks.
- Drink water most of the time. If you need something carbonated, choose diet beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners or sugar-free tonic water with a slice of lime or lemon.
- Eat your fruit instead of drinking it. Eat whole pieces of fruit or canned fruit in its own juice or light syrup, or drink only small amounts of 100 percent fruit juice.
- Instead of buying sugary yogurt, mix 1 cup of plain yogurt with 1 packet of an artificial sweetener and add fresh fruit or a small amount of low-sugar jam.
- Try halving the amount of sugar used in recipes like muffins.
- Eat regular meals so you don’t get too hungry. Waiting too long between meals makes us more likely to crave food high in fat and sugar. Try to eat three meals a day, and, if needed, one to two healthful snacks. Plan to eat at least every four to five hours while you are awake.
You may be surprised to find how much sugar is hiding in your favorite food:
- Soft drink with sugar – 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons per 12 ounces
- Frosted cereal – 11 grams, or nearly 3 teaspoons per 3/4 cup serving
- Toaster pastry – 17 grams, or more than 4 teaspoons per pastry
- Licorice – 19 grams, or nearly 5 teaspoons per 4-piece serving
- Granola – 17 grams, or more than 4 teaspoons per 2/3-cup serving
- Fruit-flavored yogurt – 32 grams in 6 ounces, or 9 grams from the milk sugar and 23 grams, or nearly 6 teaspoons, of added sugar