BY ALISHA WITHAM, BS, RD
Americans today are consuming an alarming amount of sugar. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, two hundred years ago the average American consumed 2 pounds of sugar a year. Today, the average American consumes around 152 pounds of sugar in one year, which amounts to 6 cups of sugar each week! A diet high in sugar can increase your risk for tooth decay, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. This has led the American Heart Association to recommend limiting added sugar consumption to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for woman and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men.
When thinking of sugar, there are common foods that might come to mind including soda, fruit drinks, candy, cookies and pies. Although you may not be having cake for dessert each night, there are still ways that sugar can sneak into the food you are consuming on a daily basis. Many of these are in the form of sugar added during food processing which are referred to as added sugars. Making smart swaps for lower sugar items at meal time can make an enormous difference. Check these examples below.
Wondering where to start? Below are 10 easy ways to improve your diet and avoid excess sugar.
#1 To sweeten your breakfast cereal and oatmeal use fresh fruit instead of adding a sprinkling sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.
Breakfast cereal and packaged oatmeal can be just as detrimental to your health as other common sugary desserts. A popular cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, provides consumers with 190 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 12 grams of sugar in 25 biscuits. The same amount of sugar is provided in Quaker instant oatmeal flavored with maple and brown sugar. Just at breakfast, that provides half of the recommended amount for woman to consume in one day! You can limit sugar at breakfast time by cooking unflavored oats at home and top it with fresh blueberries, strawberries or raspberries.
#2 Swap out sugar in recipes for unsweetened applesauce.
Do you tend to pack applesauce in your kid’s lunch? Choosing unsweetened applesauce provides 25 kcal and 6 grams of sugar in ½ cup. When consuming the same serving size of regular applesauce there is twice as much; 50 kcal and 12 grams of sugar. You can also use applesauce when baking! Try using a 1:1 ratio when swapping sugar for unsweetened applesauce. Since applesauce is wet and sugar is dry, decrease the amount of liquid you are adding to the recipe. Reducing the wet ingredients by ¼ cup should provide you with the right consistency. However, trial and error will help determine the perfect amounts needed to give the correct texture and structure.
#3 Instead of purchasing sauces such as BBQ and tomato sauce, try making them fresh at your home.
Tomato and BBQ sauce are surprisingly high in sugar. One cup of tomato sauce provides you with 10.4 grams of sugar and 1 tablespoon of BBQ sauce can contain 6 grams of sugar! Instead, try making your own tomato sauce at home using fresh tomatoes. This may call for extra preparation such as: discarding seeds, blanching and blending. If time is of the essence try slicing up fresh tomatoes and sautéing them with a sprinkle of basil and garlic. Less work with out sacrificing flavor!
#4 Choose “Unsweetened ” versions when you’re reaching for milk alternatives such as coconut and almond milk.
Have you ever gone to the store and quickly reached for a carton of almond milk without looking for the little font that says sweetened or unsweetened. It may seem like no big deal, but this can make a difference in the amount of sugar you are receiving. For example, Silk Unsweetened Almond milk contains 0 grams of sugar in 1 cup, while the original Silk Almond Milk will provide you with 7 grams of sugar in 1 cup.
#5 Check the label and limit the number of protein bars you consume.
Many people reach for protein bars because they are quick and easy when in a rush. However, not all protein bars are made equal in terms of nutrition. Clif’s Chocolate Mint protein bar provides 22 grams of sugar in 1 bar, while in KIND Maple-glazed Pecan and Sea Salt protein bar contains only 5 grams of sugar. The nutrition facts label includes information for both “total sugars” and “added sugars.” Total sugars are natural occurring sugars that can be found in fruit and milk. While added sugars are syrups and sweeteners added during food processing/preparation. These are the numbers to keep an eye on! When choosing a protein bar your best choice is to pick one that has 5 grams of sugar or less of added sugar.
#6 Choose sourdough bread instead of white bread.
Every food you consume varies on the glycemic index. A glycemic index ranks foods based on how many grams of carbohydrate it contains and how the carbohydrate affects one’s blood sugar. With the numerous types of bread: whole-wheat, white bread, rye, sourdough, and more, the best option is sourdough! Sourdough has a low glycemic index of 53, as compared to white bread, which has a glycemic index of 70.
#7 Purchase no sugar added nut spreads (peanut butter, almond butter) or make it yourself.
By placing peanuts into a food processor, you can make your own peanut butter in 4-5 minutes. If you don’t feel like spending 4-5 minutes creating your own, don’t worry! Just make sure to choose a nut butter that has no added sugar or salt and avoid products such as Nutella. Nutella’s first ingredient is sugar and provides 21 grams in a single serving! Instead, choose a product like MaraNatha Organic Creamy Peanut butter providing only 1 gram of sugar for every 2 tablespoons.
#8 Swap out store-bought salad dressings for DIY versions.
Creating “Do it yourself (DIY)” salad dressings will save you money and lower the amount of sugar you consume. A typical store-bought dressing like Newman’s Own Lite Honey Mustard Dressing provides 5 grams of sugar for every 2 tablespoons. Common ingredients to use when creating your own dressing include Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar. See recipes links at the top of the page.
#9 Avoid flavored yogurt.
Flavored yogurt comes in a variety of delicious flavors like “blueberry blast.” However, flavored yogurt is made from pureed and sweetened fruit, instead of whole fruit found in nature. The change in composition adds a lot of excess sugar. Choose plain unsweetened yogurt whenever possible. If it’s still not sweet enough for your tastes, mix in fresh fruit such as blueberries, pears and mango.
#10 Swap out sugary beverages for sparkling water with a splash.
You may think fruit drinks are superior when compared to sugary drinks like soda. However, fruit juices can provide you with just as much sugar. One cup of fruit juice can provide 23 grams of sugar. Try carbonated water or sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice. It can help satisfy your desire for a sweet beverage without consuming all the extra sugar and calories.
Sugar is the most popular ingredient added to foods in the United States.
Instead of listing sugar on the ingredient label, manufacturers may sweeten their food product with other ingredients such as ethyl maltol, agave nectar, cane juice crystals, blackstrap molasses, beet sugar, golden syrup, and many more. It’s essential for us to be aware of the other names sugar you may see on the ingredient label. The chart below will provide you with a list of common names for sugar. Click on the image to print and take with you to the supermarket to make more conscious decisions.
By making these swaps and becoming aware of where sugar hides in food ingredient lists; this will give you the tools you need to decrease your daily sugar intake and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cavities.