By Zahrine Bajwa, Ph.D.
Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, chances are you take in more than your fair share of sugar each day. Sugars that occur naturally in whole, unprocessed foods such as fructose in fruits or lactose in dairy come with other nutrients such as fiber or protein. However, sugars that are added to foods during processing and preparation can be found in everything from soda to salad dressing and even in otherwise healthy foods like yogurt.
At first glance you may think you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, many processed foods have sugar added to them. Today, the typical American consumes 22 teaspoons (355 calories) daily of added sugar per day, which far exceeds the recommended daily limit of 5–9 teaspoons. Consider that a single 12-ounce can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of added sugar; an 8-ounce container of fruit-flavored yogurt typically has 7 teaspoons of added sugar; a tablespoon of ketchup has 1 teaspoon of added sugar in every tablespoon. You can see that it’s easy to add these sugars to our diets, and it’s easy for these sugars to add up to extra pounds.
Be smart; Read the nutrition facts panel of foods to select those with the least amount of sugar and calories. Choose unsweetened foods as much as possible, such as unsweetened applesauce. Sugar-free foods, those sweetened with artificial sweeteners, are another choice. Some people prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners, in which case eat smaller amounts of the regular version of the food less frequently.
- Keep low-sugar snacks handy: the more healthy alternatives you have ready, the less likely you are to grab sweets on the run. Keep the cupboard and refrigerator stocked with low-sugar choices you’ve searched out at the supermarket. For instance, graham crackers and unfrosted animal crackers can satisfy a cookie craving with less sugar (and fat, too) than most cookies. Dried fruit can stand in for candy. Keep low-sugar snacks available in the car.
- Limit sweetened beverages; choose water frequently. Many clear beverages with fruit pictured on their labels actually contain as much or more sugar than soda. Sparkling waters with natural flavorings often have no calories. Even “lightly sweetened” teas rival soft drinks in sugar content. Be careful about products that say “100 percent natural,” that doesn’t mean they’re not loaded with added sugars.
- Avoid heavily sweetened breakfast cereals: look for ones that have 10 grams of sugar or less per serving. Energy bars are a common source of hidden sugar, look for ones that have less than 10-12 grams of sugar per serving.
- Watch out for reduced fat and fat-free products. Sugars are often added to mask the loss of flavor when fat is removed. You may be cutting out fat, but not necessarily calories. Many fruity yogurts are loaded with added sugar. As an alternative, mix fresh or dried fruit into plain yogurt.
Word of Caution: Over‐consumption of added sugars contributes significantly to the problem of overweight and obesity, as well as chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
USDA Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010
Ervin R, Ogden C. Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S. Adults, 2005–2010. National Center for Health Statistics; 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf
Zahrine Bajwa, Ph.D., is the EFNEP/ESNY Team Coordinator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 347 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.