Is hidden sugar adding pounds to your waistline? Nutritionista Laurie Ledford RD shares 4 easy steps for reducing the sugar in your diet.
Step 1 – Know Where the Sugar Is
- sugar-sweetened soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, iced tea
- fruit drinks
- grain-based desserts (e.g., cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pies and granola bars)
- dairy desserts (e.g., ice cream custard)
- ready-to-eat cereals
It can also be found lurking in salsas and sauces, such as ketchup. You have to read the ingredients label to find it. You may see sugar called by many different names on food labels. Some of its aliases are dextrose, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup solids, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar), syrups (corn, maple) or sucrose. And if you add brown sugar, raw sugar, honey or agave syrup to your food or drink, you are adding sugar there, too.
But what about the sugar in fruit?
Yes, there are naturally occurring sugars in fruit (also in other minimally processed foods, such as milk), but these are accompanied by essential nutrients. Processed foods with added sugars are usually nutrient-poor. Said another way, they are just empty calories… until you see them sitting on the back of your thighs.
Step 2 – Know Your Limit
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the calories you consume from added sugars. For most women, the limit is 100 calories or 25 grams per day. For most men, the limit is 150 calories or 37 grams. You know your limit, now how to figure out how much you’re eating.
Step 3 – Know How Much You Are Eating
Read the Nutrition Facts panels on packaged foods, and remember to pay attention to the number of servings you are actually eating. If you have a smartphone try an online nutrition app like MyFitnessPal for tracking.
If you are adding sweeteners yourself…
- 1 tsp sugar = 16 calories
- 1 tsp maple syrup = 17 calories
- 1 tsp molasses = 19 calories
- 1 tsp honey = 21 calories
- 1 tsp agave syrup = 21 calories
And if you add more than 1 teaspoon,
multiply the calories accordingly.
Step 4 – Cut Back Where You Can
Here are some suggestions from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of the Nutrition Action Healthletter:
- Cut back on soft drinks (which they call “liquid candy”) and sweet tea. Instead, try club soda, seltzer, unsweetened tea, low-fat or non-fat milk. Better yet, drink water.
- Avoid fruit “drinks,” “beverages,” “ades,” and “cocktails.” These are essentially non-carbonated soda pop. Sunny Delight, Fruitopia, and others are only 5%-10% juice. If you want juice, choose 100% juice and watch your portion size.
- Limit candy, cookies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, granola bars, pastries, and other sweet baked goods. Eat fruit, veggies or nuts instead.
- Fat-free cakes, cookies, and ice cream may have as much added sugar as their fatty counterparts and they’re often high in calories. “Fat-free” on the package doesn’t mean fat-free on your waist or thighs.
- Look for breakfast cereals that have no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
We all have some special sweets we don’t want to give up forever. You don’t have to. Instead, treat them as indulgences and eat them less often or in smaller portions. You can also prepare them yourself, so that you can control the amount of added sugar that goes into them. As a challenge, try gradually reducing the amount of sugar in your recipes to see how little you can get away with.
Another option you might want to try is using artificially sweetened beverages and desserts. Not everyone likes artificial sweeteners, but they can help some people satisfy their sweet tooth without the extra calories or rise in blood sugar.
Get Started Now!
Challenge yourself to try one or more of these Easy Strategies for Cutting Back on Wasted Calories:
- I will replace one sugar-sweetened beverage with an equivalent amount of water on at least three days during the next week.
- I will try a breakfast cereal that contains less than 8 grams (2 teaspoons) of sugar per serving.
- The next time I eat yogurt, I will replace half of the sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt. (Then I can save the other half of that sweetened yogurt for the next day.)
- The next time I bake, I will reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by 25%. (For example, use 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup of sugar.)
- The next time I order dessert in a restaurant, I will share half (or more) of it with someone else.
The Nutritionista (aka Laurie Ledford) is a Registered Dietitian at Tucson Medical Center who uses her knowledge and experience every day to support patients making healthy nutrition choices and prevent or combat the major killers of our time. Have a question about something you’ve heard or seen about nutrition or diet? Send your question to the Nutritionista at tmcforwomen at gmail dot com. Check back on TMC for Women for Nutritionista’s blog posts.