Did you know that Americans eat an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar per person per day? That’s about 350 unnecessary, non-nutritious calories that are contributing to bigger waistlines, higher rates of heart disease, and spikes/drops in energy levels.
You may not think that YOU eat 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, but sugar is hidden in all sorts of everyday foods…things like ketchup, salad dressings, flavored yogurt, and whole wheat bread. And there are many different names for sugar, so figuring out whether a food is sweetened gets pretty tricky. Here are just some of the sweeteners added to food – if you see one of these in an ingredients list, you know it’s code for “sugar.”
- Brown sugar
- Pure cane sugar
- Beet sugar
- Turbinado sugar
- Sugar in the raw
- Maple Syrup
- Crystalline Fructose
- Maple Syrup Crystals
- Corn Syrup
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Fruit Juice Concentrate
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Agave Nectar
So How Can I Cut Down on Sugar?
Like with most things in life, there’s no quick fix for eating less sugar. The best place to start is by reading Nutrition Facts Labels, limiting processed and packaged foods, and making most of your own food at home. If you’re used to relying on prepared foods or restaurant dining, it will take some time and effort to change your lifestyle. Aim to make one small change every week, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Within a few months, you’ll have made significant progress that will last a lifetime!
- Don’t drink your calories. Replace blended coffees, soda, fruit drinks, lemonade, sports drinks, etc. with calorie-free drinks. Water is best (add lemon, mint leaves, cucumber, etc to jazz it up), but tea, coffee, herbal iced teas are also fine in moderation.
- Consume as little packaged food as possible. Sugar is often added to packaged foods as a preservative to increase shelf life. Even “low-sugar” versions of packaged foods (for example, Reduced Sugar Quaker Instant Oatmeal) are heavily sweetened with sugars and artificial sweeteners. So stick with foods in their most natural forms – foods that have one or two ingredients, or better yet, no package at all.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and lean proteins. These foods are incredibly nutritious, tasty, and don’t have additives (read the labels, especially on frozen or canned versions, to make sure). Instead of buying pre-sweetened foods, buy plain versions and add your own flavorings with fresh herbs, citrus, spices, fruit, etc.
- Buy plain yogurt, milk products, and unsweetened dairy alternatives. Yogurt and soymilk products are some of the sweetest products on the market – many 6 oz cups of commercial yogurt have 2-3 times the added sugar of a serving of ice cream! Buy the plain or unsweetened versions of these, and if you wish, sweeten it yourself with chopped fruit, dried fruit, or even a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup (still sugar, but it will be much less than pre-sweetened).
- Make sauces, salad dressings, and dips from scratch. This may sound too hard or too time consuming, but it’s actually easy! Once you know how to make one salad dressing, you can make any version you want. Sauces and dips (like BBQ sauce, Asian sauces, bean dip, Ranch dip, etc) are also very simple after you make them once. Need some good easy recipes? Here are some dressing ideas to get you started.
- Eat at home more often. Americans have gotten used to eating out all the time, a habit that negatively affects our health. Restaurant food tastes good for a reason – they add huge amounts of fat, salt, and sugar – amounts you’d never feel comfortable adding at home. So the more you grocery shop and eat at home, the more control you have over what goes into your mouth.
- Choose one sweet treat per day. It’s hard to give up sugar altogether, and no one should live in deprivation! (Plus, it’s just not sustainable—you’re bound to cave at some point). So rather than go cold turkey, allow yourself a moderately portioned indulgence everyday. That may be a piece of dark chocolate, a small bowl of ice cream, or a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day. Just make sure you plan ahead for your treat, so you “spend” it on something you truly love, and so one treat doesn’t turn into two or three.