For my fellow sugar lovers, there is more to the story of sugary goodness than just feelings of happiness. There are different types of sugar in our diet. Sugars can be naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table. Currently, many of the foods and beverages Americans eat and drink contain empty calories (add calories to the food but few or no nutrients) – calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. Foods that are high in empty calories (especially added sugars) include but are not limited to- cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks, chocolate and Ice cream. Quite the list, isn’t it? We need to think before indulging into these sweet pleasures because we add a lot of calories to our diet by taking these empty calories. A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy. It is important to limit empty calories to the amount that fits our calorie and nutrient needs. It is super hard when it comes to ice cream or chocolate, correct? But it is the truth and we need to be mindful of what we eat.
Sweet Statistics- According to the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2010, approximately 13% of adults' total caloric intakes came from added sugars between 2005 and 2010. Men consumed a larger absolute amount of calories from added sugars than women. It was also highlighted that among adults, one-third of calories from added sugars (33%) came from beverages. In children and adolescents, 40% of calories from added sugars came from beverages.
How much is too much?- The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars we consume to no more than half of our daily empty calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. Take a random health bar off the rack the next time you go to a supermarket and look at the label. Use the calculation below to find out how many tea spoons of sugar one serving contains. You don’t live off of one bar a day, do you? If you can only have 6 tsp of sugar per day and the bar gives you 4, how do you spread the other 2 tsp over the span of 24 hours? Something to think about. Think natural sugars and you will feel less guilty, I promise.
Say bye to sugar completely? – Of course not! A good first step is to cut the usual amount of sugar you add by half. Cut back on the table sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey, molasses etc. added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Add fruits and nuts instead of adding sugar. Replacing soda with milk, water or freshly squeezed fruit juice is always a plus! Eating fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits (good sources of natural sugars) and avoiding fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup is another way of cutting down excess sugar.
Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. You can use this formula: 1 tsp= 4g of added sugar and calculate the number of tsp from a particular food. Added sugars can be identified in the ingredients list e.g. high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Reduce the amount of portions eaten. Read about portion control elsewhere on this blog. When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts like almond, vanilla, orange or lemon. You can also switch out sugar with unsweetened applesauce in recipes (use equal amounts).
Try non-nutritive sweeteners (approved by the FDA) such as aspartame, sucralose or saccharin in moderation. Non-nutritive sweeteners may be a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding more calories to your diet.
This blog is written by Sharmin Hossain, a student intern of Valley Nutrition Counseling with a PhD major in Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst