A life without sugar is seemingly impossible for some, but it is doable. Is it an enjoyable life, though? We don’t endorse eating spoonfuls of cane sugar or corn syrup, and yet this is how most Americans live their lives. The average American adult consumes about 17 teaspoons of added sugars per day, which equates to 270 calories. Occasionally, the sugar that people consume comes from honey or agave, but most added sugar comes from prepared or processed foods.
Keeping your daily sugar intake under control is easier said than done. But there is an important note about sugar, and that is the difference between added and natural sugars. The sugars that negatively affect your health are added sugars, and we’ll describe how these two types of sugar differ below.
Added Sugars vs. Natural Sugars
Natural sugars, as you may deduce from the name, occur naturally in food. Fructose in fruit or lactose in milk are naturally occurring sugars. Added sugars, as the name implies, do not naturally occur in foods; rather, manufacturers add them to foods to enhance the flavors. If you see cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, brown sugar, or even certain maple syrups on ingredient lists, then those foods contain added sugars.
Chronically overeating added sugars, be they from soft drinks, condiments, snacks foods, packaged, desserts, or cocktails, can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Recent research found that people who consumed a higher amount of added sugars had an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is why we encourage people to learn to read ingredient lists, especially since they often detail how many grams of added sugar are in the food. Instead, it’s better to focus on natural sugars, because they are often accompanied by fiber, for example, in an apple.
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is that women should stay under 24 grams of added sugars per day, while men should stay under 36 grams per day. To help you keep your sugar intake in a healthy range, dietitians recommend following these tips.
Avoid Sugar-Free Foods
When you see “sugar-free” on a certain packaged food item, you get excited. Swapping sweetened foods for sugar-free foods is not exactly a wise choice. Sugar-free foods may be lower in calories, but research suggests that eating these foods can interfere with glucose metabolism. These foods are artificially sweetened and they can negatively impact gut microbiome and increase sugar cravings. Should you choose to eat some of these foods, do so with mindfulness practices in place to remain in control of your eating.
Always Check Nutrition Labels
Learning to read nutrition labels can be challenging, but you can click here for a detailed explanation. While you don’t need to count every gram of added sugar you eat, having a reference point for the amount you should eat in a day can be highly beneficial. This is especially true for people who want to keep their sugar intake in check. If a strawberry yogurt has 22 grams of added sugar per serving, that nearly fulfills your “allotment” for the day. Ideally, choose foods that only have five or six grams of added sugar per serving. That said, pay attention to the serving size and how many servings are in the food. A food or drink may have 5 grams of added sugar per serving, but there are 10 servings in that food or drink.
Don’t Even Look At Sugary Condiments
Soda is an obvious sugar bomb, but so are condiments like salad dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, etc. These condiments are loaded with unhealthy fats and added sugars to make them taste great. Pasta sauce is another sneaky source of sugar. Fresh tomatoes contain natural sugars, but they are acidic. When processed and incorporated into sauce, manufacturers have to add extra sugar to neutralize the acidity. Choose tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes that are free of added salt and sugar.
Enjoy Fruit, But Not As A Whole Meal
You don’t have to be afraid of fruit, but you also don’t want fruit to make up the majority of your meal. An acai bowl is seemingly innocent and healthy, when it can actually contain 95 grams of sugar. Most of these sugars are natural, but 95 grams of any type of sugar in one sitting is just too much. Smoothies are great because you can incorporate fruits and vegetables. Add some healthy fats and protein with almond butter and don’t forget the greens! Spinach is a great leafy green for smoothies because it doesn’t have a strong flavor. Try to use a half-cup of fruit in your smoothies.
Practice Smart Portions
It’s important to have your cake and eat it too, so long as you do so with healthy portions in mind. The more “off-limits” you make certain foods, the more you’ll want to overeat them when you allow yourself to have them. If you have a sweet tooth, enjoy a smart portion of a little something sweet every night. If you struggle with portion control, though, consider buying sweets that are individually wrapped. Mini dark chocolate bars are excellent, clocking about 5.5 grams of added sugar per bar, depending on the type of bar you purchase.