Tips to Limit Sugar Intake

Sugar intake in America has increased dramatically over the past few decades at the expense of our health. Now that the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans has recommended limiting sugar intake to <10% of your total calorie intake, it is even more important for consumers to be aware of the sources of sugar in our diets, why it’s so bad, and ways to decrease sugar intake (1).

Consumption of sugar has increased for a myriad of reasons. One of the biggest reasons for increased consumption is the addition of sugar in many food products, which previously contained little to none. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is ubiquitous on our grocery shelves. Even foods we don’t associate with sweet flavor like ketchup, salad dressings, or frozen entrees often contain HFCS.

Another reason for the increase in sugar intake is due to the increased consumption of sugary beverages such as juice, pop, or sweetened caffeinated drinks. To give a perspective, a 12 oz can of pop contains about 33 grams of sugar (almost 3 tablespoons) and a tall caramel Frappuccino contains 45 grams of sugar (almost ¼ cup!).

 

Why Limit Sugar?

1.     Sugar has little nutritional value. Besides contributing energy (calories), sugar provides no nutritional benefits. It contains no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, or fiber in it. While we do need calories to survive, it’s better to get them from foods that contribute other nutrients to our diet.

2.     Excessive sugar intake has been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides (2, 3). Elevated triglycerides are linked to higher incidence of heart disease.

3.     Sugar is addictive. Humans have an innate liking for sugary foods. This was beneficial in the past when food wasn’t readily available and consumption of high calorie foods was vital for survival. Nowadays sugar is readily available and has been shown to stimulate the same brain pathways opioids do, making it a habit-forming food (4). Thus, eating sugar leads to the downward spiral of craving more sugar, further exacerbating the negative health effects of excessive sugar consumption. 

Tips to Eliminate Sugar

1.     Limit processed foods, which often have added sugar. Focus on eating fresh produce, whole grains, unprocessed meats, and beans for the bulk of your diet.

2.     Decrease the sugar in recipes. Most people don’t notice a difference in taste when the sugar in a recipe is decreased by ⅓.

3.     Sweeten foods yourself. Foods like yogurt or oatmeal often come already sweetened with high amounts of sugar. It’s better to buy the plain versions of these foods and sweeten them yourself either with fruit or small amounts of sweetener.

4.     Limit intake of sweetened beverages. Water is the#1 choice, but unsweetened coffees, tea, or milks are good choices as well.

5.     Choose unsweetened versions of foods. Products like applesauce or almond milk have unsweetened versions available. If buying canned or packaged fruits, look for ones canned in water or juice vs. sugary syrups.

6.     Check nutrition labels. Any ingredient ending in “-ose” is a sugar. If a food has many sugary ingredients, especially near the beginning of the ingredient list, it may be an item you want to limit consumption of. 

Sugar is tasty and can be part of a balance diet, but overall intake needs to be drastically reduced in American in order to improve our health and well-being.

References

1.     http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/

2.     http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594708

3.     http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673878/

4.     http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/opinion/sugar-season-its-everywhere-and-addictive.html?_r=0

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