You have yogurt and cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch and make a stir fry for dinner. You haven’t had a sweet all day. Or so you think. But chances are you’ve consumed countless grams of added sugar, which is hiding in many foods.
“There is added sugar in everything from breakfast cereal to salad dressings to prepared sauces,” says Merri Jo Guggenbuehl, a registered nurse and diabetes educator at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “It’s pretty shocking where you find it once you start reading labels.”
All that added sugar adds a lot of negatives to your life.
Sarah Lundblad Medrano, a Family Medicine nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, agrees. “Consuming too much added sugar is a problem for many reasons, beginning with the number of extra calories it adds to your diet,” Sarah says. “Eating foods with added sugar also fills you up so you have less room for nutritious food. And too much sugar increases your risk for a host of problems, including tooth decay, high triglycerides and diabetes.”
The American Heart Association suggests most women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars and men consume no more than 150 calories. That translates to about 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. When you consider that a 12-ounce can of soda has around 10 teaspoons of sugar, it’s easy to see how many Americans consume far more than what’s recommended.
“Over 70 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese,” Merri Jo says. “Diet plays a huge role in that.”
Mary Jo and Sarah offer these tips for cutting back on added sugar in your diet:
- Read labels — “Knowledge can be a powerful tool when you’re trying to change your habits,” Mary Jo says. “Simply becoming aware of how much sugar is in the foods you eat can help you make healthier choices.”
- Choose the right topping — Top cereal and oatmeal with fruit instead of sugar. “Cinnamon and nuts can also add flavor to oatmeal,” Sarah says.
- Rethink your drink —Drink low-calorie or sugar-free drinks instead of soda or juice. Water is an even better choice.
- Cut back on processed foods — Most have added sugar. Instead, choose fruits, vegetables and other whole foods.
- Flavor swap — Ketchup, barbeque sauce and honey mustard all are high in added sugar. Instead, choose condiments like fresh salsa or regular mustard.
- Re-do dessert — Layer fruit and plain yogurt for a healthy sundae. Or, make soft-serve ice cream by processing frozen banana slices in your food processor.
“It can be hard to cut back on sugar, but it’s worth it,” Mary Jo says. “There are few changes you can make that have such a big impact on your health.”
That sounds like sweet advice.
HOW TO READ A NUTRITION FACTS LABEL
The nutrition facts label is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on most packaged foods and beverages. The nutrition facts label provides detailed information about a food's nutrient content, such as the amount of fat, sugar, sodium and fiber it has.
- Serving size — Serving sizes are listed in standard measurements, such as cups or pieces. Similar foods usually have similar serving sizes, so you can compare them more easily. The label also includes the number of servings per container to help you calculate the calories and nutrients in the entire package. Be sure to check the serving size against how much you actually eat. If a serving is 16 crackers but you eat 32, that doubles the calories, sugar, fat and other nutrients you eat.
- Calories — The calories listed show the amount of calories in one serving of this food. You can use this information to compare similar products and choose the one that is lower in calories.
- Nutrients and daily values — The label must list the amounts of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium that are in one serving. The daily value percent tells you how close you are to meeting your daily requirements for each nutrient. It's based on a typical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. The daily value percent can help you track whether you're getting enough or too much of all the nutrients you need in a day.
- Nutrients to increase — The typical American diet is low in fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. These are listed on the label to encourage Americans to include more of these important nutrients in their diet.