Satisfy That Sweet Craving Wisely
By: Tara DelloIacono Thies
22.2 teaspoons. That’s how much added sugar the average American consumes daily—an amount that’s about three times more than the medical community’s suggested upper limit.
Why should you care? First off, sugary foods and beverages deliver a concentrated bomb of “empty calories,” which, over time, are not good for your waistline or your health with overweight and obesity being major risk factors for serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Consuming too many high-sugar foods also means that you might not have room left over for more nutritious options. That break-room donut is not merely a source of extra calories, after all. It’s also missing all of the good stuff (like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber) that you’d get if you ate an apple instead.
But I Like Donuts!
The body’s craving for sweetness goes back to a time, long ago, when calorie-rich foods were scarce. When you salivate over a donut, that’s your innate survival mechanism kicking in, drawing you to calories that provide the energy needed to survive. The problem is that today, most of us really shouldn’t consume sugar at every opportunity, since it’s readily available in quantities that far exceed our daily needs.
So How Much Is Too Much?
The answer will vary for each individual, but in general, 30 to 40 grams per day is a healthy limit. Want that translated to teaspoons? The American Heart Association recommends that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily (about 100 calories), men no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories), and children no more than 3 teaspoons (50 calories). To figure out how many teaspoons of sugar per serving are in a food, divide the gram amount listed on the nutrition label by five.
Not All Added Sweeteners Are Equal
Nature knew what she was doing when she made fruit sweet. The naturally occurring sugars (called fructose) in fruit are portioned in just the right amount and come packaged with valuable nutrients such as vitamin C and fiber. Dairy products, which deliver calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics, also contain natural sugars (called lactose). Table sugar (called sucrose) is manufactured from beets or sugarcane.
One sweetener common in packaged foods and drinks but not found in nature is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A cheap and easy way to improve flavor, it also shows up in unsuspected places like sauces, salad dressings, soups, and even sliced bread. Because HFCS is metabolized in the liver (unlike the other forms of sugar), it is suspected as a contributor to higher cholesterol and fat accumulation in the abdomen, which is considered the most harmful place to carry excess fat.
LUNA bars contain natural sweeteners like honey, brown rice syrup, barley malt, and cane sugar. In general, these are better choices if you want to cut down on (or preferably cut out) HFCS because they go through less processing and may retain some minerals.
The Bottom Line
It’s OK to include some sugar in your diet, especially if adding a little sweetness (like honey or chocolate) makes your heart-healthy oatmeal or calcium-rich glass of milk go down more easily. But keep in mind that moderation is the key—even naturally occurring sugars add calories. Focus primarily on nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, dairy, lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit, and you can still indulge in a sweet pleasure every now and then without sweating it.
1. Stanhope, KL, Schwarz, JM, Keim, NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322-1334. http://www.jci.org/articles/view/37385.
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