With the news that excess sugar can be just as damaging to your heart as excess saturated fat, it’s important to know your limits and figure out where sugar may be hiding in the foods you eat.
|by Jacqui Zimmerman, RD, Wellness Center Dietitian
The American Heart Association recommends the following upper limits for added sugar (this does not include the sugar that is found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk):
- Children: 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.
- Adult women: 5 teaspoons (20 grams) a day
- Adult men: 9 teaspoons (36 grams) a day
(Remember that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon).
Not much considering that one 12-ounce can of cola has almost 10 teaspoons of added sugar! Most Americans consume levels far above what is recommended, thanks to the addition of sugar in everything from salad dressings and sauces to sweetened beverages.
Figuring out how much sugar is in your favorite foods is no easy task. Here’s how to hunt down that added sugar.
- Food labels list the total grams of sugar but they don’t distinguish between natural and added sugars. Some foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and even milk contain natural sugars. Look at the ingredients list for words that indicate sugar has been added. The closer the ingredient is to the top of the list, the more sugar the product contains. Sugar can appear in different forms so look for words like: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose, honey, molasses, natural sweeteners, evaporated cane juice crystals, and fruit-juice concentrate, among others.
- Compare labels. If the product you’re choosing has an unsweetened version, compare the labels to see how much of the sugar is added and how much is natural. Take yogurt, for example. Compare the label of sweetened yogurt to the same brand and size of plain to give you a good estimate of just how much sugar you’re eating with your yogurt.
Got a sweet tooth? Here’s how you can cut your intake:
- For breakfast, choose old-fashioned oatmeal cooked with fresh or dried fruit for natural sweetness. If you choose cereal, look for ones with less than 6 grams of sugar.
- Choose plain yogurt with fresh berries or thawed frozen fruit instead of sweetened yogurt.
- Watch the sugary drinks! Water should be the drink you reach for most often. Try water with lemon slices if you don’t like the taste of plain water.
- Eat fewer processed foods, which often have more sugar added than is necessary.
- Only eat desserts you make yourself. You won’t eat desserts as often, and you may also be able to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipes as well.
You won’t lose your sweet tooth overnight, so give yourself time to adapt.
For more information about the health risks of eating too much sugar, see Lori Good’s blog.
Jacqui Zimmerman, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Lancaster General Health’s Wellness Center. She has been instrumental in the development of a series of three healthy cookbooks, a variety of cooking demonstrations, healthy shopping tours, and numerous presentations for a range of audiences. She is actively involved in the Education and Schools Action Team of the Lighten Up Lancaster County Coalition. Her experience includes working with people of all ages, from kids and teens to the elderly.
Her blog, "From Jacqui's Kitchen," appears regularly here on the Lancaster General Health website.
[Read Jacqui's blog]