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Sugar: Simple Strategies to Eat Less

"No, you're not getting milk, look...there's too much sugar in it." That's what I overheard a mom tell her young child at the grocery store. And, she was talking about regular white milk, which has no added sugar at all! Sadly, she was directing him to the lower sugar fruit drink - which DOES have added sugar. With current nutrition labeling it's easy to be confused about what has sugar and what doesn't. 

Do you want to eat less sugar, too? The most recent Dietary Guidelines suggest getting no more than 10% of your calories from added sugar. But what does that mean? Let me break this down. 

Let’s say you eat about 2000 calories a day (chances are you might need only 1500...or as much as 4000+, if you're a professional athlete). Ten percent of 2000 is 200 calories. That’s 50g added sugar each day. (HINT: divide the calories by four to obtain the grams of sugar).

Ok, 50g of added sugar might sound like a lot, but depending on what you eat or drink this can add up quickly.

And, like the mom at the store, it's easy to be confused about natural sugar and added sugar. That's because many nutrition labels do not differentiate the “sugar” from natural and added sources. Good news – more and more food companies will be required to do so in the future. Here’s how to read the newer Nutrition Facts label.

Look at the nutrition label on your milk carton. If it doesn’t differentiate natural versus added, you might think that sugar has been added to the milk. The label may say that each cup has 12g carbohydrate and 11g is sugar! Rest assure there’s no added sugar in plain white milk, just a natural sugar (from Mother Nature herself) called lactose.

Fortunately, there’s no need to be concerned about natural sugars from fruit and milk. Those “sugars” are accompanied with healthy vitamins and minerals. But added sugar is nothing but empty calories. 

Sugar: Where to Cut Back

About half of all the added sugars in our diet comes from what we drink. This includes beverages such as soft drink, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee or tea, energy or sports drinks, alcoholic beverages, and flavored waters.

Sugars are also found in snacks and sweets such as cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, doughnuts, ice cream, and sweet toppings like pancake syrup and chocolate syrup. But, you’ll also find it in less-likely places such as ketchup, salad dressing, and spaghetti sauce. 

Sugar is Sugar is Sugar

Since most nutrition facts label doesn't differentiate between natural and added sugars, take a look at the list of ingredients. Sugar might be listed as an "ose" word such as maltose, fructose, or sucrose.

These are also added sugar: high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup (maple syrup, brown rice syrup), honey, or fruit juice concentrates. 

Try These “No Big Deal” Changes

If you can’t differentiate between natural and added sugars, it’s tough to figure out how much added sugars you’re eating. But, one simple approach is to limit yourself to just one food or drink that’s high in sugar per day - or try these ideas:

  • Cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages.This is a no-brainer when you consider that just one 12oz can of most pops contains 41g added sugar. A large fountain drink from a fast food restaurant has 76g. Could you drink more water or low-fat dairy? It’s amazing how much water you’ll drink if you just bring a refillable water bottle everywhere you go. Too blah? What about a fizzy water like Pellegrino or one with flavor such as LaCroix? Diet soda is also an option. Sure, it may not taste the same, but most people say that within a couple of weeks their taste buds change and the diet soda actually tastes better than the regular. Try it!

  • Watch those specialty beverages. Ever wonder why your smoothie at home never quite tastes as "good" as the smoothie shop? That's because most smoothie shops add sugar. It's often in the form of “turbinado” or raw sugar. Ask for your favorite drink to be prepared without it, or at least add less. While one heaping teaspoon of sugar has about 6g of sugar, many coffee drinks have way more. Could you get just one pump instead of two? Order the small instead of the medium?

  • Limit the sugar-sweetened snacks and desserts. While the sugar content in these foods vary considerably, a restaurant-size dessert or a king-size candy bar contains more 50g sugar. If you have a sweet tooth, look for a feasible way to eat less that doesn’t make you feel deprived. Research indicates that the more people are served (or the bigger the package), the more they are likely to eat. When you have a hankering for some cake, why not buy an individual slice, rather than a whole cake? 

  • Pay attention to the sweet sauces and spreads. Just one quarter-cup serving of pancake syrup contains 50g of added sugar. There’s nearly 20g in a two tablespoon serving of chocolate syrup. And, 10g of added sugar in a tablespoon of preserves. Why not save your sugar allowance for the sweets you really want. For me, I choose individually wrapped Dove dark chocolates – four of these has just 16g of sugar.

 

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