Do you have a sweet tooth? Chances are that you do. As a survival mechanism humans are programmed to prefer sweetness to other flavors. Couple this inborn preference with the U.S. food supply that provides excessive amounts of sugar, readily-available and in many different forms, and the result is the average person consumes 150-170 pounds of sugar ever year. Nutrition information is always evolving, and as we’ve learned that inflammation is at the root of all chronic disease, the impact of sugar has come under the microscope. Gone are the days when a spoonful of sugar was a benign treat.
Sugar contributes to the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression in many ways:
- Sugar increases the production of advanced glycation end products or AGE’s. AGE’s are highly inflammatory compounds that promote inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Sugar does not provide any nutritional benefit and takes the place of potential nutrient-dense foods in the diet.
- Sugar contributes to unfavorable alterations in levels of intestinal bacteria leading to symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome, mood disorders and abnormal hormonal regulation.
- Diets high in sugar lead to distinct food and flavor preferences. These strong taste preferences are on a spectrum with addiction. Multiple studies show that sugar can light up the brain’s reward and pleasure centers much like drugs and alcohol.
By now, you have likely become aware that sugar is something to be be wary of and that it should be limited. Let the information here be the push you need to reset your taste buds and shift your food choices.
Become Sugar Savvy
We all need to take sugar more seriously. If you aren’t already aware of sugar in your diet, pay attention. For one week, read food labels and log the grams of sugar you consume each day. Get ready to be amazed. So called “health foods” really are not. For example, Clif Bars are advertised as healthy energy bars that athletic people eat. Clif Bars contain ~ 25 grams of sugar. Theoretically, it would be fine for an adult to eat 1 Clif Bar daily IF that was their only source of sugar, but the chances of one source of sugar daily is unlikely. What about a child? One bar gives more than twice the amount of sugar a child should have daily. Clif does offer a kid’s bar, the Z Bar contains 11 grams of sugar. As you can see below that would be about it for the entire day.
The sugar in whole, fresh or frozen fruit, or in plain yogurt and plain milk is not a problem. It is the sugar added to packaged foods that needs to be limited. This includes: sugar, any syrup, fructose and other sweeteners ending in -ose, and sugar alcohols ending in -ol such as sorbitol. So called natural sugars also need to be identified: honey, molasses, juice concentrates and fruit purees. These natural sweeteners are better, and when you want to sweeten foods yourself at home, these are great options. However, in a beverage, cereal, energy bar, yogurt or other packaged food, these are added sugar.
Sugar & Kids
Sugar is especially difficult for children. “Kids foods” are loaded with sugar and our culture continues to support food rewards. Those of you with children need to work diligently on your family’s food choices. Not only are daily limits lower for children, but lifelong food preferences and behaviors are developed in childhood. Give your child the gift of tastebuds that appreciate a wide variety of flavors.
Maximum Sugar Per Day
Age Group | Maximum grams of sugar daily | Teaspoons of sugar
Adults | 18-25 grams | 4.5-6 teaspoons
Toddlers (2-3 years) | 12 grams | 3 teaspoons
Children (4-8 years) | 15-17 grams | 4-4.5 teaspoons
Adolescents (9-13 years) | 20-22 grams | 5-5.5 teaspoons
Teens (14-18 years)| 22-27 grams | 5.5-6.5 teaspoons
Top Sources of Sugar
Many sources of sugar are obvious: soda, candy, baked goods, ice cream. But in addition to these obviously sweet foods, among the top 10 sources of sugar in our diet are:
- Fruit drinks/lemonade (basically sugar water with fruit flavors)
- Dry cereal
- Flavored milk (chocolate milk is not “healthy” nor is it an optimal sport recovery food)
- Flavored yogurt
Continue To Move Forward
Our goal for you is to become aware of the sugar in foods that you commonly eat and to make smart choices to avoid sugar when you can. This begins with shopping for foods that do not contain added sugar. Next you can challenge the meals you prepare at home, modify recipes and try new flavors. Reducing sugar is a process and takes time to fully adapt. Over time your taste buds will change and it will no longer be a struggle. We are here to support you if needed. Don’t struggle in the grocery store, while cooking, or managing cravings without us!
Diving Into Diabetes Workshop Series
Just a reminder! There is one week left to register for the three part series on balancing your blood sugar: Diving into Diabetes