By now, you’ve heard the bad news about sugar. We’ve been hooked on the stuff for thousands of years, it continues to show up in the unlikeliest places (like yogurt and marinara sauce), and it increases our risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Sugary drinks alone are linked to nearly 200,000 annual deaths worldwide, according to Tufts University researchers.
Eating less sugar is easier said than done, and not just because it’s as addictive as cocaine. Added sugar seems to be everywhere. It’s present in 74% of packaged foods, according to the University of California San Francisco’s SugarScience institute.
As a result, the average American consumes between 15 and 19 teaspoons of added sugar—or nearly 300 calories—a day, the CDC says. Added sugars allow people to become overweight but undernourished as the extra calories make it more difficult to get necessary nutrients while staying within an ideal calorie intake, according to the FDA.
Because everyone’s dietary needs are different, talk to your Emcara Health provider about the best ways to reduce sugar in your diet. Until then, here are six steps worth taking.
Beverages are the “leading source of added sugars in the American diet,” according to the CDC, pointing to sports drinks, sodas, fruit punches, and flavored coffees as the primary providers of sweet, sneaky, empty calories. A single 12-ounce serving can contain the majority of your maximum recommended daily sugar intake—about 10% of your daily calorie consumption, or 200 calories on a 2,000-calorie diet.
To make it easier to give up your daily soda or sweet tea, the CDC recommends splashing 100% juice into plain sparkling water for a low-calorie refreshment.
To understand the benefits of a whole food-based diet, look no further than its opposite: ultra-processed foods. Foods in this group, as defined by the NOVA Food Classification system, represent more than half of the dietary energy consumed by Americans, and much of that is from sugar. Think cookies, bacon, soda, even flavored yogurt.
Processed foods, which are cheap, tasty, and energy-dense, have at least one ingredient not found in kitchens, according to the Brazilian nutrition researchers who defined them. Because of their high sugar content and minimal nutritional value, they’re tied to inflammatory diseases, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Whole foods are the opposite: They’re more dense in nutrients than calories, providing your body with needed energy, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also often rich in fiber, which slows digestion and helps to ensure that your body slowly absorbs the natural sugars in these foods. Result: No spike in blood sugar and the health dangers that result.
Healthy whole foods include the following:
Carbohydrates tend to take the place of fat in reduced fat or nonfat versions of processed foods, and that usually means more sugar. A Stanford review of fat-free, low-fat, and regular versions of the same foods found that fat-free and reduced-fat oils and salad dressings had more than twice the sugar content.
However, fat and sugar content vary based on a variety of factors, so ask your Emcara Health provider if it’s safe to incorporate low-fat foods into your diet.
Food labels use at least 61 different names for sugar, according to Ohio State University, which posted all of them at this link. Names vary from well-known alternatives like high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose to obscure sweeteners such as saccharose, treacle, muscovado, and dehydrated cane juice. If you encounter an ingredient ending with “ose,” it’s probably just sugar.
The closer sugar is to the top of the ingredients list, the more sugar-based the food, right? Not quite. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, some manufacturers use multiple types of sugar to avoid having to list sugar as the primary ingredient.
Thankfully, the grams in the “Added Sugars” portion of a food’s FDA-mandated Nutrition Facts will tell you how much sugar was added during processing, while the Total Sugars metric also factors in naturally occurring sugars.
Harvard’s public health experts warn consumers against another marketing trick: the health halo. The term refers to foods that claim to be healthy based on the presence of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, or whole grains.
But processed foods that contain healthy ingredients aren’t healthy on balance if they still contain lots of added sugar. Common offenders include breakfast cereals and granola bars, although they have competition from trendy health halo foods like acaí bowls and oat milk.
To understand how much sugar you’ve been eating and regain control of your intake without giving up flavor at mealtime, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service recommends cutting sugar out by substituting a processed food for a whole food and then sweetening that whole food as needed.
Breakfast is a good place to start, with many breakfast cereals, granolas, and oatmeals containing an entire day’s worth of added sugar in a single serving. Instead, switch to plain cereal or oatmeal and add fresh or dried fruit to keep some sweetness without going overboard.
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To learn how Emcara Health can help you develop a nutrition plan for your unique health needs, call us at 1-800-344-1686 to schedule a free in-home consultation.