Life is sweet, isn't it? Figuratively this can be true, but it's also true when it comes to sugar consumption among Americans. According to the American Heart Association, women and children should be consuming just 6 teaspoons or fewer of added sugar each day and for men just 9 teaspoons.
Now, to be clear added sugar is defined as sugars that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared as opposed to total sugars, which also include sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages.
Americans, however, are far exceeding this recommended daily amount of sugar and average about 13.3 teaspoons of added sugar per day, twice the suggested daily allotment! How is this happening? It's not difficult to see that sugar is added to many processed foods to help them taste good and to preserve the quality, but surprisingly beverages are the leading category source of added sugars! And, of course, snacks and sweets comprise the next biggest source.
The health ramifications are nothing to dismiss either. When the body is inundated with synthetic forms or sugar it isn't allowed to process it more slowly as it does with natural sources (such as from a piece of fruit with fiber and other healthy things). As a result, the body experiences a shock to the system which can eventually result in higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and liver issues.
If you are trying to curb sugar consumption, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Watch trouble foods. Sugary drinks and highly-processed baked goods and snacks pack a big punch when it comes to sugar content. Did you realize one regular size soda can contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar? Skip the flavored drinks and opt for water instead with fresh fruit or cucumber slices to add flavor.
- Always check nutrition labels and ingredients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day. So, for a 2000 calorie per day diet, that would be 200 calories or 50 grams of added sugar per day. Luckily, those nutrition labels can help you out. Just recently, the FDA has started including added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label so that you can make informed choices, based on your individual needs and preferences.
- Replace candy and desserts with nature's candy: sweet fruit. While fruit does contain fructose, this natural sweetener is much different than table sugar. And because of the large water content in fruit, the fructose is less concentrated than candy. Fruit also contains other healthful components, including fiber, vitamins, potassium and polyphenols.
- Keep a backup on hand. Keep healthier snack options on hand for when that sweet tooth strikes. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, chips and salsa, and low-salt popcorn are all good options.
- Make items at home with less added sugars. Cooking and baking at home can help you avoid many of the added preservatives and sugars that are added to create a shelf-stable product. Also, many recipes for baked goods work quite well by reducing the sugar content. Experiment and see how it works for you!