Eating Too Much Sugar? Tame Your Sweet Tooth

Sugar cubes

By guest expert Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD

Did you know that the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of sugar each day? That’s 335 calories with zero nutritional value.

So it’s no surprise that the American Heart Association (AHA) offers guidelines urging Americans to limit their intake of added sugars — sugars or syrups added to foods during processing or preparation, or at the table.

Women need less sugar than men

Women should limit their daily consumption of added sugars to about 6 teaspoons (100 calories) a day, and men to about 9 teaspoons (150 calories) a day, according to the AHA. Have just one 12-ounce soft drink (which has 8 teaspoons of sugar), and you’re over the limit if you’re female and nearly over it if you’re male.

Sugar disturbs our metabolism

Why does the AHA offer guidelines? Because studies show that eating too much sugar has serious health consequences.  Your risks for diabetes and heart disease increases with these abnormalities related to sugar consumption:

  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • elevated blood triglycerides
  • inflammation

What’s more, eating too many calories in the form of added sugar means you’ll consume fewer nutritious foods, which can shortchange your body of essential nutrients.

Good sugars occur naturally

The AHA is quick to point out that not all sugar is “bad.” Foods that contain sugar as well as dietary fiber, protein and other essential nutrients include:

  • fresh and dried fruits
  • vegetables
  • low-fat dairy products
  • whole grains

Soft drinks and sweetened beverages are primarily to blame for the bad rap sugar gets. But let’s not forget the sugar found in cereals, snacks, baked goods, ice cream, candy and chocolate — or the sugar we spoon into foods and beverages ourselves!

You can cut back on sugar and enjoy food

Follow these steps to reduce the sugar you and your family consume:

  1. Zero in on the sources. Look at the 2 teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee, that sweetened cereal you like, your daily iced tea or soda at work and those cookies in your child’s lunch.
  2. Consider cutting back on each one. Opt for black coffee, less sugary cereals topped with fresh fruit, and unsweetened iced tea or water; pack seasonal fruit in your kid’s lunch.
  3. Be a sugar detective at the grocery store. Scan every food label for these “key words” for added sugars:  brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, crystallized/evaporated cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, malt and molasses.
  4. Give yourself an occasional treat. Enjoy a cookie or two — preferably homemade — in moderation. Don’t let sweets take center stage in your diet. Your body will soon learn to crave less sugar — and your health and your waistline will benefit!

Have you cut back on sugar? Share your tips in the comments below.

Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian in the Department of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation.