American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


Sugar, Sugar

sugar still lifeLast year the average American ate 156 pounds of refined sugars. Just think about 31 of those 5-pound bags of sugar you buy for baking, and imagine eating it. That’s a lot of sugar, Sugar.

That 156 pound number doesn’t include the natural sugars found in foods like fruit and yogurt,  which are fine. Its just the sugar (also high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, etc.) added to foods. That sweet taste is appealing and addictive, food manufacturers use it so we want to eat and buy more.

Added sugar is everywhere. The new food labels rolling out next year will tell us how much added sugar is in each product. Until then, check the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of largest to smallest on the labels. If a sugar or sweetener is listed in the top few ingredients, there is a lot of added sugar in that product. Compare one without added sugar to one with, and you can see how many additional grams of sugar have been added.

Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.

For each four grams of added sugar, think of one teaspoon of sugar going into your food. Its easier for me to visualize adding those teaspoons of sugar into my food than it is to add up grams in my head.   girl with lollipop

How much added sugar should we eat?

That’s a good question. While I’m supposed to say none, that’s not realistic or pleasurable. (We don’t have to be the killer of all fun to be healthy.) The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams (6 tsp) a day for women and 37 grams (9 tsp) a day for men.

That seems like plenty, but if we look at labels of foods we eat regularly we get to that upper limit pretty fast. One flavored yogurt cup can have over 15 grams of added sugars. Can you imagine adding four teaspoons of sugar to your cup of yogurt? I can’t, which is why I like buying it plain and adding fruit, a little vanilla and a touch of honey.

Other foods that we don’t think of as sweet can have lots of added sugar, like spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, and even bread. Compare labels at the grocery store, its worth choosing the options with the least added sugar.  Even if you add a little at home for flavor, you won’t come close to adding the amount the factory adds.

So can we just switch to artificially sweetened foods? Unfortunately those aren’t the solution their labels promise.  Research shows no significant health benefits result from switching to artificial sweeteners, and some of them may contribute to disease. If a label says “Sugar Free” but the food tastes sweet, you can bet they are using an artificial sweetener.

Choose foods without added sugars to easily and painlessly cut calories.

It doesn’t take long to get used to foods the way nature intended. Soon the old standbys will taste way too sweet. Each time someone says that, I break into a happy dance.

Road Trip Help

McDonald’s has added some healthier choices to their menu, so if you are on a driving vacation and stuck with fast food you can still have a decent meal. They have some pretty good oatmeal (ask for it unsweetened, and just add the fruit) and an Egg White Delight sandwich, which only has 250 calories. The grilled chicken salads and sandwiches are under 400 calories without dressings (so choose wisely), and they offer apple slices (some locations have Cutie oranges too) on the side.

The McDonalds in Southern California offer an egg white and turkey sausage breakfast bowl which has some greens like kale and spinach in it too. Not bad for a drive-thru! If you must eat the fries, split a small order and choose unsweetened iced tea or water to drink. The sodium levels are high in fast foods, so go easy if you have high blood pressure.

Quick Recipe

package of Trader Joe's French Green BeansWhen its too hot to turn on the oven, I grab French Green Beans from the Trader Joe’s frozen section. They are so thin, you can defrost them in a colander in just a few minutes. Heat them in the microwave for a minute or two, toss with your favorite salad dressing or some olive oil and lemon, add salt and pepper to taste. You have a quick, filling and healthy side dish that even veggie-haters will eat. I know because my resident veggie-hater even asked me to put some of these in her lunch.

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