Sunday, September 8, 2019

What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?

I just started teaching another semester of nutrition.  Each semester I ask students to write down some of their nutrition questions on a stickie note and then post them on the board.  Throughout the semester I answer the students' questions.  One of the students asked “What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?”  

What “sugars” should we cut back on?
Many people are confused about sugars in our foods.  We should cut back on “added sugars” but what about the natural sugars occurring in foods? 

Added Sugars – how much should we have in our diets?
Many foods we eat have sugar added to the food.  Surprisingly, most foods we buy in the store such as soup, pasta sauce, catsup and many more foods have sugar added during the manufacturing process.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we limit “calories from added sugars to no more than 10% each day.  That’s 200 calories or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000-calorie diet.”

What are Added Sugars?  This means manufacturers have added sugar during the processing of the food. 
  • Added sugars include: Sugars and syrups added to foods like sodas, yogurt, candies, cereals, cookies, lemonade, Sunny D, Hi-C, fruit punches, fruit drinks, pies, donuts, energy drinks. And other foods like soup, crackers, pasta sauce, catsup.
  • Sugar you add to foods like a teaspoon of sugar on your oatmeal or sugar in your coffee.

Almost half of the added sugars in our diets come from drinks – like sodas, fruit drinks, and other sweetened beverages.

What are natural sugars in foods?
§  Fruits have fructose – a naturally present sugar in fruit.  Buy canned fruit and the manufacturer may add more sugar but all fruit has some naturally present sugar. 
§  Milk – real cow’s milk has the natural sugar, lactose, in it.  Milk doesn’t taste sweet as lactose isn’t a very sweet sugar.

                          The sugar naturally present in foods like fruit and milk is not “added sugar” and one does not have to cut back on fruit or milk because of this naturally present sugar.  

Why should Americans cut back on added sugars?
Added sugars are considered “empty calories”.  They provide calories but few nutrients.  Eating a lot of calories from foods high in added sugar, displaces calories from healthier options like whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables.  “Added sugars contribute calories, but no essential nutrients.”

How can one cut down on added sugars?   The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines has a handout on added sugars.  They recommend: 
  • Choose fresh fruit instead of a cookie or cake
  • Choose cereals with less sugar.  Look at the food label for cereals and choose cereals with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.  Quaker now offers a lower sugar instant oatmeal.
Look for foods with less added sugar.
  • Choose real, 100% juice instead of fruit drinks or fruit punches.  Read the ingredients to make sure it is real juice.
  • With meals, drink milk or water and skip the sugared sodas or sweetened ice tea. Or choose unsweetened ice tea.
  • Eat healthy foods that have some added sugar.  Choose the Honey Nut Cheerios over Pop Tarts. Yes, the Honey Nut Cheerios have some added sugar but they are also whole grain and a good way to add whole grains to one’s day.


The average American gets 270 calories of added sugars each day. That’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar! 
 How can you cut back on the added sugars in the foods you eat?  A relative loved sweetened ice tea – loaded with added sugar.  Ice tea is actually good for one’s health but all the added sugar, not so much.  So, she started to blend her tea.  At first, she filled her cup with 75% sweet iced tea and 25% unsweetened ice tea.  After awhile she went 50-50.  She now drinks the unsweetened ice tea which is good for her health as it is full of healthy antioxidants.  She didn’t give up her iced tea, she just gave up the added sugar.  When trying to cut back on added sugars, focus on the sweetened beverages as they are packed with calories and few, if any, nutrients.  
Choose unsweetened ice tea
Sources:  Guidelines, handout, cereals  Image sources:  Spoonful, Quaker Oats , tea

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