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  • Writer's pictureKim Manfried, RDN, CDN

The Sweet Facts on Sugar

There are various forms of sugar and many hidden sugars in the foods you eat, you may not even be aware of how much sugar you are consuming. According to the 2015-2020Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average American consumes 17 tsp per day of added sugars and the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar a day, with women consuming 3 times the recommended amount. The AHA goes further to say this adds up to 60 pounds of added sugar a year, which is the equivalent of six-10-pound bowling balls! The numbers are worse for children with their average added sugar consumption at 81 grams per day and over 65 pounds of added sugar a year!

How much should you be aiming to consume?

The AHA recommends that men: consume no more than 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of added sugar a day and women: no more than 6 teaspoons a day or 24 grams. Note: 4 grams of added sugar = 1 teaspoon. You can use this info when looking at a food label, here’s how: 1. go to a food label on one of your packaged foods 2. go to the “total carbohydrates” line 3. Under “total carbohydrate” look for the line that says, “total added sugars” and if there is a number of grams listed, for every 4 grams is a teaspoon of added sugar. For reference, a 12oz can of coca cola has 39 grams of sugar which equals about 10 teaspoons of added sugar! Yikes! Sugar adds up fast!

Let’s take a deeper dive into the sugar bowl to find out ways we can be more mindful and aware of the types and how much sugar we are eating a day.

Forms of Sugar:

Sugar is a form of a carbohydrate, and there are 4 main types of sugars: glucose (blood sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (milk sugar). Here is a list of a few other names to look for on a food label that are hidden sources of added sugars: brown rice syrup, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, cane juice, corn syrup solids, rice syrup, maltodextrin, barely malt syrup and don’t forget the many sources that have sugar right in the name such as cane sugar, palm sugar, invert sugar and turbinado sugar.

This article has been referring to sugar as “added sugar”. Added sugars can be any of the combinations of the above types of sugars that manufacturers add to foods during processing, meaning it is not naturally occurring in the food. “Natural sugars” are from sources that come from whole foods like fruits and milk that are naturally occurring in the food. Foods that contain natural sugars tend to be more nutrient dense, meaning, they have more fiber content and a healthier nutrition profile from vitamins and minerals, while added sugars are more refined, meaning they do not contain any nutrients that would be beneficial to overall health. Research has shown that added sugar consumption over time can contribute to major health issues like diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Holiday Time and Sugar:

The bottom line is, most of us will want to have a splurge or treat this time of the year and rightfully so. Not all sugar is bad and consuming sugar as part of a balanced diet and being mindful of the choices you make, is the best way to tackle this time of the year.

  • Try having a variety of choices at the dessert table such as a nut, cheese, and fruit (natural sugar) platter and using healthy dips like hummus based or reduced fat options for fruit dipping.

  • Switch it up by using honey, agave, and coconut sugar instead. They contain a bit more antioxidants and nutrients, but remember to use in moderation like any other sugar.

  • Focus more on spices like cinnamon and ginger to flavor foods and coffee.

  • Don’t drink your sugar calories. Try sliced fruit or berries in water and mint and flavored teas. Make pretty iced cubes with frozen fruits and edible flowers or dilute 100% juice and freeze to put in water to make it more festive.

  • Add less sugar to recipes and make swaps when able with no sugar added applesauce.

  • Make a sugar budget: decide in advance what days you will have a splurge and what days you will be more mindful of choices. Make better choices at home before leaving for the event so you can help reduce the chance you will overindulge.

  • Try not to take home leftover desserts. If it’s in the house at an arm’s reach, you’ll tend to grab for it until it’s gone. Mindfulness is key this time of the year!

  • Make it count! If you love it, it tastes good and you have been waiting all year to have your favorite dessert, have it and enjoy it. If it doesn’t taste like you remembered or if it doesn’t even taste that good at all, skip it and find something that is worth the time and sugar calories.

Until Next Time,

Kim Manfried, RDN, CDN

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