Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness Seth Stratton | one year ago

The Sugar Shakedown

In an update to the federal Dietary Guidelines, it's recommended that Americans limit their added sugar intake in a typical 2,000-calorie diet to 10 percent, or approximately 12 teaspoons. That's about half – 22 teaspoons – of what the average American currently consumes.

Lately it seems like anyone and everyone is hopping aboard the “no sugar” train – and now the government is weighing in – again. That’s right, sugar is officially a Public Enemy. According to the new Dietary Guidelines – required to be updated every five years – Americans are being told to reduce their sugar intake to no more than 12 teaspoons a day in a 2,000-calorie diet – about the equivalent of one Snapple. Since we consume an average of 22 teaspoons in a day (more than any other country), that’s a big cut.  Let's take a deeper dive into why sugar has less-than-sweet consequences and how moderating your intake may be easier to control than you think.

Why sugar always leaves you hanging

  • Sugar causes blood glucose levels to spike and plummet, resulting in mood swings, fatigue and cravings for more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Sugar increases the risk of 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. Translation? Larger pores, more wrinkles and sagging skin.

How you can control your 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. Ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the product, so if sugar is near the top, that’s a red flag.
  • 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 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. 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 for 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, vitamin water can hide more than eight teaspoons in one bottle, and store-bought smoothies can pack more than a dozen teaspoons. 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 eating clean at your next meal.