Avoiding Added Sugars

The holiday season is quickly approaching and bringing with it an avalanche of added sugar. It starts with Halloween candy, then Thanksgiving with all the desserts, the holiday parties in December and runs all the way through the new year, with a quick return in February for Valentine’s Day. Phew, that’s a solid 5 months of sugary treats at every turn! As a result, studies show most Americans gain 1-2 pounds each holiday season. That might not seem like much, but we usually don’t lose the extra weight (despite trying every January) and they add up year after year.

Concerns about Added Sugars

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories. For the typical 2,000 calorie diet, that’s less than 50 grams per day. For reference, a can of soda has about 39 grams of added sugars. 

Added sugars provide calories without nutrients, making it hard to get enough nutrition for optimal health within calorie needs. Eating patterns with less added sugars are associated with reduced risk of heart disease in adults, and some evidence of reduced risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults.

Added Sugar Detective

The job of an added sugar detective is going to get easier in the future. The updated Nutrition Facts label will finally list added sugar starting in January 2020 (fully rolled out by January 2021). Until then, the best way to know about added sugars in foods or drinks is to read the ingredient list. MyPlate has a great resource about added sugars that lists all the different names for added sugars, like honey, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose. The higher in the list of ingredients these sugar(s) appear, the more added sugar a product contains. Beware of products with multiple sugars listed. This is a trick food companies use to keep them lower in the list to look like there is less added sugar in a product since the ingredients are listed by weight.

Tips for Limiting Added Sugars

Just like cutting back on salt, it can take a little bit for our taste buds to get adjusted to less sugar in foods and drinks. Commit to one or more of these strategies for at least 2 weeks before you decide if you can tolerate limiting added sugar. You’ll likely find it gets easier over time and eventually your old sugary favorites will taste too sweet to enjoy as much.

  • Choose unsweetened drinks like water, unsweetened tea or coffee, and low-fat or fat-free milk. Sugary drinks have no nutritional benefit and are full of empty calories. Bonus, you’ll save money by not buying them and sticking with “free” tap water!
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit, nature’s original dessert. Save decadent treats for only very special occasions and stick with a small portion.
  • Pay attention to processed foods and choose unsweetened options, such as plain yogurt instead of fruit-flavored (just add your own fruit!) or unsweetened applesauce.
  • Reduce added sugar in baking recipes. Most recipes will still turn out fine and taste as good with ¼ – ⅓ less sugar than originally written. This is a great strategy for the holidays to enjoy your traditional favorites while still cutting back on added sugars.

Have you made efforts to avoid added sugar? What do you think is the biggest source of added sugar in your diet? How might you be able to cut back?

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