What’s the first food you think of when I say the word sugar? Cookies? Candy? Ice Cream? This beautiful pink sprinkled donut right here? I bet you didn’t think of ketchup…. or cereal. And in this, lies the problem. We still think of “sweets” when we think of sugar, instead of realizing that sugar is in SO MANY of the everyday processed foods we consume.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that provides us calories to use as energy. There are two main types of sugar. Natural sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and some grains. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Lactose is a natural sugar found in animal dairy products.
Added sugar (processed sugar) is found in processed foods and drinks and also includes the sugar you add to foods and cook with. Added sugar provides “empty calories” that are void of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients, little to no nutritional value and is used for various reasons like:
- To keep baked goods fresh longer
- To keep foods from spoiling
- To help fermentation in alcohol and bread
- To improve color, flavor, and texture of foods and drinks
Why is added sugar so bad for us? High sugar diets are contributing to the obesity epidemic and have been associated with an increased risk of many diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancers. Our country is consuming sugar like it’s going out of style! As of 2016, the United States had the highest per capita consumption of sugar and we consume more in total than any other country in the world. The average person consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, which is slightly more than 3 12-ounce cans of Coca Cola.
In 2016 the American Heart Association set a Recommended Daily Allowance of sugar intake for women (24 grams) and men (36 grams). So, the above statistic of 126 grams of sugar per day is more than 5 TIMES the RDA for women.
Here are some simple ways to REALLY cut down on your sugar intake…
Stop adding sugar to your coffee
Easier said than done right? Well, this was actually the first step I personally took to test and see if I could remove processed sugar completely from my diet. It was ONE new change that required no extra time, and honestly, after 2 weeks of no sugar in my coffee, I got used to the new taste and haven’t gone back since. If you brew your coffee at home, then you know how much sugar you are adding. But what if you get coffee on the go at your local coffee house? And what if you get a fancier coffee drink? How much sugar is in those? Well, a medium (Grande size) vanilla latte with skim milk has 31 grams of sugar. A Grande mocha with skim has 32 grams of sugar. A Grande chai tea latte with skim has a whopping 42 grams. You can see where I am going with this right? At the start of your day, you are already over your RDA of sugar. Yikes!
Avoid flavored yogurt
For those of you who do dairy, yogurt can be a good source of protein; especially Greek yogurt. However, flavored yogurt (and they do come in some pretty fabulous flavors) is LOADED WITH SUGAR. Opt instead for plain yogurt and add some fresh fruit and some slivered almonds to jazz it up a bit. Also, beware of “fat free” and “low fat” yogurts because sometimes they have even MORE sugar added to make them taste better. Try to aim for 10 grams or less per serving as remember, there is naturally occurring sugar or lactose in the yogurt.
Toss the soda already
Research has consistently shown that people who drink sugary beverages like juice and soda, weigh more than people who don’t. Additionally, consuming a lot of sugar sweetened beverages is linked to an increase of visceral fat (a kind of deep belly fat), which is associated with concerning conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Beverages loaded with sugar, like soda, juice, and sports drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet. Why is sugar added to almost everything? Well, the flavor of course! Drinking ONE 12 oz. can of soda contains a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar and ALREADY brings you to OVER your RDA. REMOVING soda from your diet is a HUGE step to lower your daily sugar intake.
Use caution with cereal
Cereals, even the “healthy” ones need to be looked at closely because MOST of them are high in sugar. Remember that the front of a processed food product is marketing and advertising. Words like “natural” or “whole grain” even “gluten free” does not mean that the product is not potentially loaded with sugar. Many “healthy” brands can be upwards of 11 grams of sugar per serving. A healthier option would be plain oatmeal (unflavored) topped with a little drizzle of raw honey and some fresh fruit. I like to put berries in my oatmeal. Berries are loaded with fiber and fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer!
This can be confusing as unless you have a degree in science, most ingredients found on labels will be words you can’t pronounce. But as far as sugar is concerned, try to choose items that are 5 grams of sugar per serving or lower. FYI, for visualization purposes, 4 grams is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Still seems like a lot doesn’t it? The other thing you want to pay attention to is the serving size. Some serving sizes are ridiculously small, and YOUR version of what a serving is could be three times that of what is listed which means, you are consuming three times the amount of sugar listed. So, READ THOSE LABELS!
Beware of bars
Energy bars, candy bars, often it’s the same thing…and I’m not joking. Many energy bars have the equivalent sugar of a FULLSIZE CANDY BAR and often are higher calorie too!! Bars are such a convenience food because you can throw them in your car or bag on the go. But take a second thought and consider that a single bar can be equal to your RDA. Pair a bar like this with that Grande latte we mentioned, and you are over DOUBLE your RDA. Choose some unsalted nuts for some protein and healthy fats and pair that with a piece of fresh fruit and you are making a healthier choice that will keep you feeling fuller longer.
Don’t keep sweets in the house
My favorite sweet treat food is ice cream. However, if you came over to my house and opened my freezer, you would not find any ice cream. Don’t keep sweet treats that are high sugar items in your house because they are much more accessible and within reach. Sweet treats should be just that…. TREATS…that you have once in a while. If you keep these items in the house, they are likely to be consumed on a more regular basis. If you are craving something sweet, opt for a piece a fresh fruit. Yes, I know that an apple is not the same as a cookie. The natural sugar in fruit can very well take care of that sweet craving though, and fruit is much better for your health and your waistline.