Before digging into that plate of tasty Christmas cookies, consider this: According to the American Heart Association [AHA], the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day – far exceeding its recommendation of about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men. And that’s before factoring in all the sweet temptations of the holiday season.
The most recent national dietary guidelines recommend that adults limit sugar to less than 10% of total daily calories. There is growing evidence that excess sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, cancer, dementia, osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes and, of course, weight gain.
Some of the biggest sources of added sugar include sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soft drinks and energy drinks; cereals and bread products; jams and other preserved foods; yogurt, ice cream and other sweetened dairy items; and treats like candy, cookies and cakes. Fast foods and processed foods are loaded with added sugars, as are a number of more salty-tasting foods such as ketchup, salad dressings, pasta sauces and rice. Conversely, “natural” sugar is found in fruit, vegetables and dairy products such as milk and cheese.
With those facts in mind, the following are a few of AHA’s tips for being more mindful when it comes to your added sugar intake, during the holidays and beyond.
• Read nutrition labels. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of quantity from greatest to least, and that added sugar has a number of synonyms such as glucose, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, and dextrose, to name just a few.
• Satisfy sweet cravings with fiber-filled fruits. A piece of fruit can often satisfy the desire for something sweet. Although fruit does contain simple sugars, it is also a good source of fiber, which delays the absorption of sugar from the intestines and doesn’t cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash as added sugars do. The fiber in fruit also provides a feeling of fullness.
• Avoid artificial sweeteners. Although low- or no-calorie sweeteners were developed as a solution for the country’s sugar addiction, research has shown that they have a number of indirect consequences. Some artificial sweeteners are up to 600 times sweeter than sugar, which distorts our sweetness expectations. Additionally, when we consume artificially sweetened foods, our body expects calories and nutrition which they often fail to provide. Many experts believe we consume more of them as a result, leading to weight gain
• Add flavor to food in other ways. Spices, herbs, and other flavorings can help satisfy sweet cravings. Many of these, including cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla bean and others, are also filled with antioxidants and vitamins.
• Avoid dehydration. Sometimes what the body perceives as a need for something sweet may really just be a sign of thirst. Dehydration makes it difficult for the liver to break down glycogen, a stored form of sugar, and utilize it as fuel – so consider reaching for a glass of water before giving in to a sugar craving.