On average, Americans eat about 20 teaspoons of sugar each day, according to a report from the 2005-10 NHANES database. To put that into perspective, that’s more than twice what is recommended. Overeating sugar can have both short term and long-term effects on our bodies. One short-term effect is that it can cause your mood to change from a feeling of energy when your blood sugar levels spike, to a feeling of lethargy when your blood levels crash. Long-term effects of overindulging in sugar can be harder to detect since they creep up more slowly. Some of these include skin aging more quickly and worsening joint pain (both of these due to inflammation), as well as increasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These effects are in addition to the likely possibility of weight gain due to excess calories.
Decreasing the amount of sugar you and your family consume is not always as easy as deciding not to eat a candy bar or ice cream. Added sugar could be making its way into your diet without you even realizing it. Below are some examples of foods you may not realize contain added sugar:
- Flavored yogurt
- Granola bars and protein bars
- Condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce
- Salad dressing
- Tomato sauce
- Sports drinks
- Energy drinks
Many of the items in the above list may not seem like typical “sugary” foods. It is important to pay attention to what you purchase at the grocery store and to use specific techniques to avoid eating too much sugar. As you read the strategies below, consider what might work best to ensure your family also does not overeat added sugar.
Read the Nutrition Label
If you are buying something in a package, all you have to do is flip it over and read the nutrition label to see how much sugar is inside. As you do this, notice how large a serving is. The serving size is what all of the nutrient information will be based on. For example, if an energy drink says there are 2 servings with 24 grams of sugar, then the entire bottle actually has 48 grams of sugar total.
The American Heart Association recommends the following daily allowances for sugar:
Women: no more than 6 tsp, or 25 grams
Men: no more than 9 tsp, or 47 grams
Teens: no more than 8 tsp, or 33 grams
Children: no more than 3 tsp, or 12 grams
The image to the right shows the nutrition label for a box of granola. There are 10 grams of sugar in a 3/4 cup serving. Try looking at some of the foods you buy on a regular basis, then replace those items with lower or no added sugar alternatives.
Know Sugar’s Alias’
It’s not always as simple as reading the nutrition label and scanning ingredients for “sugar.” some other common names for sugar include:
- Brown sugar
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High fructose corn syrup
Try to avoid buying products with added sugars like these in them.
Not only is water better for your health, but it’s better for your budget. One 20 oz bottle of Coke contains 65 grams of sugar! Another culprit is juice. Even if a product is 100% fruit juice, it probably contains a large amount of sugar. 8oz of Tropicana orange juice is 22 grams of sugar, and 8 oz of Welch’s grape juice is 35 grams. Instead of reaching for these beverages, try flavoring your water with slices of orange, lemon or even cucumber for a refreshing taste.
We are often dehydrated without even realizing it, which can mimic the feeling of hunger. Try drinking a cup of water if you feel hungry, then wait about 20 minutes to see if you’re actually still hungry. Drinking more water can help reduce food cravings, re-energize the body, and even help us get clearer skin!
If you know you tend to snack during the day, then planning snacks for the week is just as important as planning your meals. Consider choosing snacks that are healthy and filling. About 200-250 calories for a snack can be a good way to ensure you make it to the next meal craving free. You may find that you have a hard time getting all of the colors of the rainbow into your daily diet; snacks can be a great way to work in some extra nutrients!
Seasonal fruits and vegetables can be great options to keep you full and satisfied and are usually less expensive than produce that is not in season. Hummus dip with veggies or whole wheat crackers is another filling, healthy option.
Sometimes you may just continue craving something sweet. You can plan for this too! Have some plain yogurt with frozen berries on hand and make a small parfait, or buy your favorite fruit (kiwis, fresh cherries, and bananas are all delicious choices!). One of my favorite homemade sweet snacks is spreading a nut butter onto a thin slice of whole wheat bread, then adding a half banana sliced with cinnamon on top.
Find some snacks that you enjoy and also make your body feel great!
Try Cooking from Scratch
If you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s inside. As you saw in the list of foods with added sugar, even store bought sauces and marinades may contain sugar. A homemade version will be sugar-free, more nutrient dense, and is often a more flavorful option!
Working long hours may make it difficult to cook every day. Meal prep during the weekend can save a lot of time or a lot of extra calories during the week. If you want to make healthy eating a priority, you have to make it easy on yourself. Soups, stews, and sauces can easily be made in a large batch and frozen. Try making your own pasta sauce then freezing it. Then, all that’s left to do in the evening is boiling the pasta one evening and reheating your sauce–presto!
You can get really creative with this and meal prep for breakfast and lunch too! All you need to start out is a few food storage containers or mason jars.
It can be very difficult to cut out sugar completely if you have been eating too much for a long time. A great way to ensure you’ll stick with some of the above techniques is by implementing just one or two at a time. Once you feel that you’ve made the new habits stick, you can work in another technique.
Were you surprised about some of the foods that contain high amounts of sugar? What are some strategies you would like to begin implementing to reduce your sugar intake?