Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness | 3 years ago

The Sugar Shakedown

Added sugar is hiding everywhere – in our yogurt, our bread, even our salad dressing. Experts say most Americans are eating nearly double the recommended amount of sugar each day. Here’s the truth about how the sweet stuff might affect your family’s health. 

Consider this: One can of soda has about 39 grams of sugar in it. The American Heart Association recommends that each day, adult men should eat a maximum of 37.5 grams of added sugar, and adult women and all kids ages 2 to 18 should eat a maximum of 25 grams.

With sugar hiding in everything from bread to yogurt, many of us are eating way more than we realize: The average American consumes over 80 grams of added sugar every day. That’s more than triple the recommendation for most of the population!

So, what’s all this sugar actually doing to our health, and how can we help our families cut back? Let's take a deeper dive into why sugar has less-than-sweet consequences and how moderating your intake may be easier than you think.

Why does sugar always leave me hanging?

  • Sugar causes blood glucose levels to spike and plummet. The result: mood swings, fatigue and cravings for more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Sugar increases the risk of multiple health problems. Eating excess sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It also causes tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Sugar interferes with immune function. This can lead to inflammation in the body resulting in everything from skin to gut problems.
  • Sugar accelerates aging. It even breaks down collagen and elastin, which help your skin stay plump and youthful.

How can I control my intake?

  • Read food labels. Sugar is in a surprising amount of everyday foods that you may not think are sweet, including tomato sauce, salad dressing and crackers. Check out the nutrition facts to see the grams of sugar in each serving. Another tip? Ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the product, so if sugar is near the top, that’s a red flag. Look out for high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose and fruit juice – they’re sugar too.
  • Buy unsweetened. Once you start reading labels, you can start making changes. Look for products with “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” on the packaging. You can find unsweetened versions of common foods in most grocery stores: applesauce, oatmeal, nut butters and non-dairy milk like almond and soy.
  • Don’t quit sugar cold turkey. Cutting something out of your diet entirely isn’t realistic for most people. Plus, the health benefits you get from fresh fruit and honey – natural sources of sugar – shouldn’t be missed. Reduce your intake gradually by not using it in your coffee, or buying plain yogurt and sweetening it yourself with a dollop of honey.
  • Load up on protein and good fats. Unhealthy carbs loaded with sugar can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar – and an inevitable crash. Instead, opt for minimally processed whole grains, fruits, veggies and beans. To minimize the roller coaster effects, pair protein, healthy fats and fiber with your meal, all of which slow down the release of blood sugar in the body and keep you feeling full longer.
  • Keep it real. Buh-bye, diet soda. When you’re reducing your sugar intake, you may be tempted to switch to artificial sweeteners. Don’t do it! Studies have shown that fake sugar can be more damaging than real sugar, because it confuses your hormones and never truly satisfies a sweet tooth, so you’re tempted to eat more in the long run.
  • Get flavorful. It’s hard to crave sugar when your taste buds are dancing from the delicious spices you’re treating them to. Vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger are all great options when you want to go full-flavor with zero calories. Bonus: Cinnamon has been shown to naturally regulate blood sugar, which helps control cravings.
  • Don’t drink it. Avoiding soda is a no-brainer, but even seemingly “healthy” drinks can be packed with the sweet stuff. For example, sports drinks can hide more than 32 grams in one bottle, and store-bought smoothies can pack more than 48 grams. That’s more than the daily recommended limit!
  • Never give up. At first, cutting down on sugar can feel impossible. Like everything, there’s an adjustment period. Give yourself time to get over that hump, and your taste buds will adjust. Pretty soon you’ll notice that super-sweet things like candy and cake taste too sweet, and the natural sweetness in fruits and vegetables will become more apparent. And if you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Just commit to making better choices at your next meal.

Looking for more ways to help your family stay healthy? By eating more fruits and vegetables, being physically active for at least one hour per day, limiting recreational screen time, and avoiding sugary drinks, your family can join the 5210 League and make the pledge to be healthy together.