Americans eat an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day--equivalent to about 355 extra calories. Cutting this out could eliminate about 37 pounds from your waistline in a year. That estimate does not include naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which are perfectly healthy. If our current intake is too much, how much added sugar should we really be consuming?
The American Heart Association recommends that most women should eat no more than 100 extra sugar calories per day and men no more than 150 calories--or 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 added teaspoons for men. Added sugars refers to sweeteners that manufacturers add during the processing of foods, sugars included in recipes and syrups and sugars added at the table. Maple syrup, honey, cane sugar, corn syrup, cane syrup, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses and turbinado are all names of added sugar.
Americans get the bulk of their sugar from soft drinks or sodas. One 12-ounce can of soda includes 8 teaspoons of sugar, over the recommended limit for women. Cookies, candy, cake and ice cream are obvious sources of added sugar. Manufacturers also sneak sugar into "healthy" products including fruit-flavored yogurts, salad dressings, sauces and marinades, cereals, and breads. An 8-ounce container contains 6 teaspoons of sugar, and frosted cereal has about 3 teaspoons per serving. Every time you drink nondairy creamers, add syrup to your pancakes, enjoy a glass of sweet tea, slather your ribs in barbecue sauce, or dip your fries in ketchup, you are taking in a lot of sugar.
Effects of Excess
Extra sugar means extra calories and, without adequate energy expenditure, extra pounds. Consuming a lot of sugar calories in the forms of soda, cookies and cakes pushes out nutritionally rich foods like dairy, fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association also links excess sugar consumption to risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Too much sugar is also a known cause of tooth decay.
How to Cut Back
The Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars on their labels. You can of course use common sense to cut back--forgo soft drinks and drink water, substitute popcorn for cookies, eat a banana instead of an ice cream cone. You should also scan ingredient labels and check if your spaghetti sauce, salad dressing and peanut butters contain extra sugar. Go for another brand if sugar is near the top of the ingredient list. Experiment with making your own dressings and sauces and when you make your own baked goods, cut back on the amount of sugar called for in the recipes.
Do your best to replace the added sugars in your diet with healthier options. Sugar can create serious disruptions to your energy levels--the high followed by the crash. With better food choices, your energy will even out. Over time, cravings for super sweet products will subside. And on those rare occasions when you do satisfy your sweet tooth, it will be all the more special.