Did you know that sugar is the most popular ingredient added to foods in the United States? In fact, the average American consumes 152 pounds per year—that’s three pounds per week! Serious health complications can arise when too much sugar is consumed including weight gain or obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In order to quit our habit with sugar (or have a healthier relationship with it) we must become more educated about it.
Americans, aged 6 years and older, consumed about 14% of total daily calories from added sugars in 2003–2010. (source: cdc.gov)
What is sugar? The most popular sweetener, sugar can go by many names, making it more difficult to limit. When reading packages and labels, look for these terms that refer to sugar: sucrose, maltose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, molasses, and brown sugar. Keep in mind that healthy alternatives still act as sugar in your body and these can include maple syrup, raw sugar, agave nectar and stevia.
Where is sugar hidden? You may know that sugar is in foods such as ice cream, cakes, cookies and other sweet treats. But it’s also added to many packaged foods too. When grocery shopping and preparing meals, it’s important to read labels for any of the above-mentioned sugary ingredients. These are common foods with hidden added sugars:
- Tomato sauce
- Canned soup
- Dried fruit
- Juice, smoothies
How much sugar is safe to eat? Since we all have different levels of health, this is best discussed with your primary health care provider. However, a general guideline is 9 teaspoons per day for men, and 6 teaspoons per day for women.
How can I keep my sugar intake in check? First and foremost, discuss any health concerns with your doctor. Next, become comfortable reading nutrition labels on every food item you purchase—especially those impulse items you grab when you’re hungry. Finally, be cautious when ordering take out or dining at a restaurant. Ask how foods are prepared and what, if any, ingredients are added during preparation.
Take matters into your own hands and start swapping out your favorite sugary foods for a healthier option. You can start here by swapping:
- Soda and juice for water or unsweetened seltzer
- Flavored yogurt for plain yogurt with fresh fruit
- Bottled salad dressings for homemade dressings
- Ketchup for unsweetened ketchup
- Bread and tortillas for lettuce
Sources: cdc.gov, dhhs.nh.gov