According to recent studies, many of us are eating more than twice the recommended amounts of sugar each day--and most don’t even realize it. That’s because most of today’s packaged foods, drinks and snacks contain added sugar, and not just a little. At the end of the day, it all adds up to sugar overload.
Moreover, this overload can easily sabotage your health. Many health experts believe that consuming too much sugar is fueling the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other health problems.
How Much is Too Much
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars to no more than half of your daily “discretionary calorie allowance.” (These calories consist of fats and sugars.)
So, here’s your daily sugar limits:
- Women – No more than 100 calories per day which equals 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar.
- Men – No more that 150 calories per day which equals 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar.
- Children – The AHA has not established a limit but the CDC recommends no more than 5-15% of total calories should come from discretionary fats and sugars depending on the child’s age and other factors.
Just one can of regular soda which contains eight teaspoons of sugar and 130 calories puts most of us at our limit. In fact, most added sugars in our diets come from sweetened drinks. Other culprits are candy, flavored dairy products like chocolate milk and ice cream and baked goods like cookies, cakes and pies. Researchers estimate that about 41% of added sugars in our diets come from drinks and the rest from foods.
A recent study found that the average teenage boy consumes about 362 calories a day from added sugar which equates to 17.5 percent of all calories. That’s a whopping 90.5 grams of sugar or over 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day!
In addition to the obvious offenders, you’ll find sugar in almost all processed foods—from breakfast cereals to spaghetti sauce. However, it can be a little difficult to determine how much sugars are added to foods as current “nutrition facts” labels only list the total amount of sugar per serving. It doesn’t separate the sugars that are naturally in some foods versus sugars that are added. Luckily, there are some tricks you can use to figure out how much of total sugars is added sugars:
- Read the ingredients list and scan for any type of sugar including: molasses, honey, corn syrup (HFCS), maltose, sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, galactose, or invert sugar. As ingredients are listed in order of weight, the higher these sugars are on the list, the more sugar there is in proportion to the other ingredients.
- Look for the words “no sugar added” on the package. Some food producers are waking up to the sugar overload problem and are offering more foods without added sugar.
- Sometimes you can also compare the same whole food to its processed cousin to determine how much sugars have been added. For example, a container of old fashioned rolled oats that lists only one ingredient—oats, has less than one gram of sugar per ¼ cup (40g). That one gram represents the natural sugars in the oatmeal. Then look at the flavored, sweetened individual packets of oatmeal. Some contain as much as much as 12-16 grams of sugar. Therefore, 11-15 grams have been added. That’s about three to four teaspoons of added sugar.
Tips to Cut Sugar
- Reduce or eliminate the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
- Buy fresh fruits or fruits canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup.
- Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
- When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
- Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
- Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes (use equal amounts).
American Heart Association