On average, Americans consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day, which accounts for 355 calories. The recommendation for daily sugar intake is no more than six teaspoons (96 calories) for women and no more than nine teaspoons (144 calories) for men, according to the American Heart Association.
Sweetening up your diet isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sugar is a natural (intrinsic) component in many raw foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and milk products. The danger lies in consumption of products with added (extrinsic) sugars: sugars and syrups added to food during processing, preparation or even at the table, advises the American Heart Association.
Although many consumers recognize soda, candy, baked goods and ice cream as sugar-laden, nutritional landmines, some are less aware that added sugars can be found in pasta sauce, regular and fat-free salad dressings, barbecue sauce and other condiments, and multi-grain cereals.
Too much of the sweet stuff can cause a plethora of health problems: obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, nutritional deficiencies and even low energy. The good news is there are easy ways to cut sugar from your diet while still satisfying your craving for something sweet.
Educate to Eliminate
The first step in eliminating or reducing your intake of added sugars is learning how to identify foods containing them. Read the label for ingredients such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose and maltose. If it is one of the first three ingredients, put it back on the shelf.
Avoid processed foods, or look for foods that have the least amount of processing. Opt for whole, raw, natural food products whenever possible. For example, instead of purchasing jarred pasta sauce, buy organic crushed tomatoes and make your own.
Get the facts about artificial sweeteners. Research has shown that sugar substitutes can actually intensify cravings, leading to overeating and weight gain, according to WebMD.com.
Replace the Taste
Sugar is added to food to improve or enhance the taste. What is oatmeal without brown sugar? Or peanut butter without jelly? Or coffee without sugar and cream? You can make your favorite sweet treats just as flavorful with these creative swaps:
- Jazz up oatmeal by stirring in a spoonful of almond butter and adding diced bananas or shredded coconut. Another option is stirring in unsweetened applesauce and adding cranberries.
- Toss that old-school PB&J for a new and improved version: spread pure peanut butter on whole-grain bread or rice cakes top with fresh blueberries or raspberries. Fresh fruit, especially when it's in season, tastes just as sweet as jelly.
- Stir citrus zest and fresh fruit into plain yogurt for a sweet and tangy combination. If you're looking for something new, try stirring in pure vanilla bean powder.
- For a delectable mug of steaming goodness, stir vanilla or almond extract into low-fat, almond or coconut milk, and add it to your coffee.
- Take a baked sweet potato to new heights of healthy. Mash it until it's chunky, and top it with toasted pecans and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Cook spinach or kale in coconut oil. Although there is no sugar in coconut oil, the aroma lends a touch of sweetness.