I have always had a pretty big sweet tooth. Ok, a really big sweet tooth. Regular visits to our great-grandparents usually meant a trip to DQ for my favorite banana milkshake or butterscotch dipped cone. Sugar wafers were a staple in our kitchen as well as Little Debbie snacks, oatmeal cream pies for me, and kool-aid. Let’s not forget about corn pops and frosted flakes. I also love to bake and wanted to open my own bakery for a long time. I’ve decided that my purpose in life isn’t to make sweet treats for people, even if it does make them happy.
As I’ve aged, my sweet tooth has decreased, thank goodness. I am also much more aware of the amount of sugary foods I put in my body. But it’s still a struggle! You will notice me reference it in different posts but I did the Whole 30 challenge last October, which is zero added sugars or sweeteners. I am very aware of the foods that contain added sugars or at least that’s what I thought. I was amazed, and annoyed, by all of the different foods that have sugar added when I was forced to look at every single label. Chicken broth? Huh, who knew?
So let’s talk about what added sugar is, recommended amount of added sugar, and ways to decrease added sugars in your diet. It doesn’t mean you have to cut it out completely but most of us can stand to decrease added sugars in our daily diets.
Added sugars are any source of sugars eaten or added to foods that are not naturally occurring in the food. Added sugars provide calories but no essential nutrients and can take the place of nutritious food. They can go by lots of names including honey, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, dextrose, turbinado sugar, agave syrup, lactose, brown sugar, coconut sugar, etc. Here is a great list of common names of sugar. Added sugars are mostly fructose, which is metabolized in the liver. This can lead to insulin resistance, which can in turn lead to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. A high sugar diet is also bad for your teeth and can increase the risk of obesity and heart disease.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommends no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugars. For a 2000 calorie diet that is 200 calories or less from added sugars or about 12 teaspoons or 50 grams of sugar. For reference, a 12 oz can of coke has 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories, which is almost a whole days worth.
You are probably aware of typical sugary foods like cakes, cookies, soda and candy, right? There are also lots of foods that contain a significant amount of sugar that you may not realize. Some of these are pasta sauces, condiments like ketchup and bbq sauce, store-bought seasonings, crackers, processed meats, salad dressings, granola bars, and cereals.
So how do I kick the sugar habit? Or at least cut back on sugar? Here are my tips:
- Keep your go-to sugar sources out of the house. I don’t keep gallons of ice cream in the fridge or I want it all the time. If we want ice cream, we will go get the good stuff occasionally. FYI, lower-fat versions and non-dairy treats like sherbet usually will have more sugar added.
- Read food labels and opt for lower sugar options if possible. Try this with cereal, yogurt, pasta sauce and even bread.
- Make your own sauces, seasonings, dressings or anything else you find to have a lot of sugar. Look for a homemade taco seasoning recipe to make a big batch of and keep on hand. Use fresh ingredients for a flavorful homemade pasta sauce without added sugar. Make a homemade vinaigrette for your salad.
- Use naturally sweet fruit as a sweet treat or to sweeten foods like oatmeal. Ever tried frozen grapes? Berries with homemade whipped cream?
- Cut out sugary drinks. They are a huge contributor to added sugar in the American diet. Drink water and lots of it. No, it’s not the same but do it! Drinks with very high sugar content include soda, sports drinks, flavored coffee drinks, sweetened teas, fruit drinks (fruit punch, juice drinks that aren’t 100% fruit juice) and energy drinks.
I really believe that food should not only nourish your body but should nourish your soul as well. If you want the piece of wedding cake, an ice cream cone with your kiddo, or the heavenly chocolate dessert at date night, have it and enjoy the hell out of it. But make it so totally worth it!