Eating too much sugar? Try these 5 ways to cut back

Consumer Reports News: August 27, 2009 02:22 PM

Americans now consume more sugar than ever, a trend that not only adds empty calories to the diet—and contributes to the nation’s growing obesity problem—but may also increase your risk of heart disease. That’s the conclusion of a statement released this week by the American Heart Association (AHA). High intake of added sugars—those you sprinkle in your coffee or cereal, and those manufacturers add to everything from candy and sodas to cereal and pasta sauce—are associated with increased risks of high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including inflammation, says the AHA.

Foods that contain natural sugars, such as fresh fruit and milk, also provide essential nutrients. But many foods and beverages with high levels of added sugars provide little or no nutritional value—and diets high in added sugars tend to be low in essential vitamins and minerals. The average American today consumes just over 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day, according to government statistics. And the average 14 to18-year-old consumes roughly 34 teaspoons. In contrast, the AHA recommends no more than 25 grams— six teaspoons—(100 calories) of added sugars per day for women and no more than37.5 grams—nine teaspoons—(150 calories) for men. That’s bad news for soda lovers. Soft drinks and sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans’ diets. A 12-ounce can of soda contains about eight teaspoons.

If you’re concerned about your or your family’s sugar intake, or are at risk for obesity, high blood pressure, or heart problems, here are five simple ways to cut back:

1. Check the labels. The nutrition-fact labels on foods only list the amount of total sugars, and don't distinguish between added and naturally occurring ones. But you can get a sense of how much added sugars the products contain by checking the ingredients list. Common added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, and sucrose. The higher up on the ingredient list those sugars appear, the more added sugar the product contains. You can check the added sugar content of selected foods on the USDA’s web site.

2. Reduce added sugar gradually. It’s difficult and impractical to erase all sugar from your diet in one clean sweep, so gradually reduce the amount you add to cereal, coffee, tea, and other foods, and gradually start choosing foods with less of the white stuff. Over time, you may find that you’ve tricked your taste buds into enjoying your morning coffee with just one packet of sugar instead of five.

3. Satisfy your sweet tooth with healthy snacks. The next time you get a craving for something sweet, consider fruit, low-sugar cereal, or add your own fruit to plain yogurt.

4. Watch what you drink. While soft drinks account for almost half of the added sugars in the American diet, many ready-to-drink teas and juice drinks are also loaded with sugar. For healthier versions, spike water with a few ounces of strongly flavored tea, a generous squeeze of lemon or lime, or ice cubes made of fruit juice. Or blend your own smoothies from fresh or frozen fruit, nonfat yogurt, and ice.

5. Substitute with spices. Add sweetness and flavor to food with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, mace, and nutmeg. Muffins and quick breads can be made with 25 percent less sugar, and the sugar in applesauce and pie fillings can be cut in half. Finally, try substituting 100 percent fruit juice for honey or other liquid sweeteners.

Ginger Skinner

Find out the whole truth about high-fructose corn syrup, get more information on the large amounts of sugar in soda and sweetened beverages, see our recent report on kids' breakfast cereals, and for some healthier cereal options, take a look at our nutrition Ratings (subscribers only).


Photo courtesy of Lara604


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