These days there seems to be extra focus around the amount of added sugars in the standard American diet. This month, we’re focusing on added sugars in our diets and the many different effects that too much sugar can have on our health.
What are added sugars?
All sugar is a form of carbohydrates that give you energy and raises blood sugar levels. There are two different types of sugar: natural sugar and added sugar.
Natural sugars are those already present in foods such as fruit, dairy, and even some vegetables. Foods that contain natural sugars also provide important vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that help our bodies function.
Added sugar is sugar or sugar products, such as syrups, that are added into foods when they have been processed or added in baking or cooking. The downfall of added sugar is that it contains little to no other beneficial nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
So what are the health effects of too much added sugar?
Too much added sugar can contribute to many different health effects. Added sugar can contribute to heart disease, raise triglyceride levels, increase blood sugars, and promote tooth decay. It can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and other chronic diseases, which is why it’s important we limit our intake.
Additionally, added sugars digest very quickly. This quick digestion may lead to a short burst of energy that might feel jittery, shaky, or unfocused. The quick energy burst then also leads to a fast energy drop, that might feel like fatigue, less focus, and even make you feel hungry. When we limit added sugars throughout the day, we might be able to notice the positive benefits to satiety and focus in the moment.
So how much is too much?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans should limit their consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. According to the American Heart Association, women should limit added sugar to 25 grams per day and men should limit their added sugar intake to 36 grams per day. This is equal to 6 teaspoons in women and children, 9 teaspoons in men.
To put that in perspective, one 16 oz. bottle of soda typically contains about 52 grams of sugar, or 13 teaspoons. That’s almost double what we should have in one day!
How you can decrease added sugar?
Added sugar is often hidden in many foods. The highest sources of added sugars can be found in juices, soda or soft drinks, baked goods, candy, sugary cereals, flavored yogurt, and ice cream.
To begin reducing added sugar in your diet, you must know how much added sugar you are consuming. Reading the nutrition facts panel is the best way to find out how much sugar is in certain items. Check out this list of common names for added sugar here that you can find in the ingredient list on the nutrition facts label.
One of the simplest way to decrease your added sugar intake is to avoid sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Try drinking water flavored with fresh fruit or herbs. Sparkling water can be another excellent way to switch up your water intake.
Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet, is to find alternative foods to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you find yourself reaching for sugary treats late at night, try to find healthier options to still get in something sweet. Other options might be:
Added sugar is hidden in a lot of the foods that we eat. Too much of this sugar can contribute to many different chronic diseases. As a part of a healthy lifestyle, work on your relationship with these sugary foods. You don’t need to completely eliminate them, but rather save them for special occasions and enjoy them as a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
By: Katie Gallagher, MA, RDN, LD
Let's Move! STL Dietitians