Oh, Sugar! Less is Best for Lower Disease Risk

Oh, Sugar! Less is Best for Lower Disease Risk

Oh, Sugar! Less is Best for Lower Disease Risk

It may not seem like it when you hit your afternoon sweet tooth urge, but our bodies don’t work best on sweets.

Simple sugars, commonly found in sweets and snack foods, give us “empty” calories, which means that although they may give us a short-lived energy boost, they mainly add calories to our diets that don’t give our bodies any additional nutrients or longer-lasting energy in return.

Additionally, empty calories your body doesn’t use may show up on your waistline. And the results of added sugars on our health may go beyond obesity.

Eating too much sugar has been linked to

  • high triglycerides (or having a ‘high fat’ content in your blood, related to high cholesterol)
  • obesity-related high blood pressure
  • liver disease and excess fat around your organs
  • other risk factors for heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
Hiding in Plain Sight

For many people, it’s these hidden simple sugars that are the problem. Just where do sugars hide?

“Hidden” sugars lurk about in many of our favorite foods and drinks. A medium vanilla latte? It has around 35 grams of sugar. A medium “sweet tea” can log around 55 grams of sugar. A medium soda can hit you with about 85 grams of sugar. But there are also other hidden sources of sugar in less obvious foods as well such as, pasta sauce, gravy, condiments, flavored yogurts and even “healthy” cereals.

There are so many hidden, added sugars in our prepared foods that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says nutrition labels should show the amount of added sugars as a part of the recommended daily calorie intake.

 Food Added Sugars

Source: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/#figure-2-10-food-category-sources-of-added-sugars-in-the-us-popu 

How Much Is too Much?

The average American adult or child gets about 360 calories, or almost a quarter of one’s total recommended daily calories, from added sugar each day. Why so much sugar? Registered dietitian Judy Kolish says our American taste buds favor sweeter things more than people in many other countries. Even our baked goods are sweeter.

For the first time, Americans are being clearly told to limit added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020   give a good look at what we are eating compared to what we should eat.

The new dietary guidelines recommend getting less than 10 percent of your calories per day from added sugars.

‘Added sugars’ are the key words here. Naturally occurring sugars, like those in fruit, are not included in the 10 percent. That’s about 12.5 teaspoons, 50 grams or about 193 calories of sugar a day.

Retraining Your Sweet Tooth

Once someone gets a preference for a sweeter taste, it’s hard to change. But Kolish says you can change your taste to accept foods prepared with less sugar and that are in their whole form.

We can become more tuned in to how much sugar is in our food, she says.  “Instead of always choosing sweet foods, choose foods that you enjoy and are well-prepared.”

Try plain Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt and adding low-fat granola, dried or fresh fruit to taste. You might be surprised at how your tastes can change to accept less sweet foods.

“When you stop to be in the moment and be mindful of what you are eating, you may even find that you dislike foods that are overly sweet,” she says.

Curb Your Sweet Tooth

Try these tips to curb your sweet tooth:

  • Read food labels. Check the number of sugar grams. There are four calories in each sugar gram. Compare brands. Skip those that place honey, corn or maple syrup, or words that end in “-ose” (eg fructose or sucrose) at the top of the ingredient list.
  • Cut the amount of sugar you add to your coffee, cereal or tea in half. When baking, slash sugar by one-third to one-half. You often won’t notice the difference.
  • Buy fresh fruits. Or try fruit canned with water or natural juice instead of syrup.
  • Choose water over sodas and sports drinks. Or find reduced-sugar juices and drinks. Say goodbye to your sweet tea. Drink it unsweetened instead.
  • Reach for the spice jar. Ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon — along with extracts like vanilla and almond — give flavor with less calories.

Need more tips on nutrition? These guidelines   offer a look at our eating habits and changes for better health.

Sources: Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns,   Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020; Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns,   Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020

Originally published June 23, 2016; Revised 2019