High amounts of sugar in your diet can contribute to a whole host of health concerns, including weight gain, increased triglycerides (fat in the bloodstream), impaired metabolic functions, and many more. These conditions can also lead to even more serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is a great step for better health. But finding some of the hidden sources of sugar can be harder than you think. That’s why it’s important to take a little time to learn the do’s and don’ts of sugar.
First of all, keep in mind that not all sugar is bad. Foods crucial to a healthy diet such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy include varying amounts of natural sugar. These sugars are carbohydrates that are necessary for providing energy to your body, and the foods they are in contain essential fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. But the added sugars that are found in most treats and processed foods are a different story – and are generally lacking nutritional value.
Added sugars are labeled with a variety of names, so be sure to watch out for processed foods with any of the following ingredients:
- Cane juice
- Cane syrup
- Corn sweeteners
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate and nectars
- Malt syrup
- Any ingredient ending in “ose”—the chemical name for many types of sugar, i.e. fructose, glucose, maltose, and dextrose.
According to the Mayo Clinic, desserts, sodas, and energy/sports drinks are the top sources of added sugars among Americans. These sugars are often added for flavor, texture, color, and preservation purposes. Look at the labels on low-fat or fat-free items, and you’ll often find that they contain more sugar than their full-fat counterparts. Generally, foods with added sugars have significantly more calories than those without them.
According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories and men no more than 150 calories of their daily intake in added sugars (about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men). To give you an idea of how much that is, a 12-ounce can of soda has about 160 calories/10 teaspoons of added sugar.
To cut back on sugar in your diet, try these tips:
- Remove sodas, sports/energy drinks, and flavored coffee drinks from your diet. Replace them with water, milk, tea, or unsweetened coffee drinks.
- Replace desserts and snacks with naturally sweet fruits. Add fruit instead of sugar to your oatmeal. Replace jelly in your peanut butter sandwiches with bananas or berries.
- Pick foods with less or no added sugar. Avoid flavored foods and opt for the “plain” or “unsweetened” versions.
- Avoid salad dressing, peanut butter, tomato sauce, and condiments that contain added sugars.
- When cooking or baking, trying reducing the sugar in recipes by one-third, or substitute an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce. Chances are you won’t even notice the difference.
The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. But before you grab a diet soda, keep in mind that artificial sweeteners don’t offer your body any energy, and consuming too much may lead to stronger sugar cravings and unhealthy binging. Rather than replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners, try a healthier choice like stevia. Stevia has fewer calories than sugar, but still enough to curb your cravings.
Take the time to review your sugar consumption, and limit the amount in your diet to cut calories without spoiling your nutrition. And remember, a little sugar from the right sources can make life a whole lot sweeter.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.