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We’ve all heard how important it is to reduce our added sugar intake to support weight-management goals, help reduce the risk of dental cavities, and even possibly reduce the risk of developing certain cancers. But if you’re one of the many people who have a fierce sweet tooth, how in the world are you supposed to curb your cravings when you’re trying to reduce your added sugar intake?
The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their added sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for most men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for most women and children 2 and older. And while that may sound like a generous amount, the quantities can creep up if you are one to nosh on gummy worms midday and enjoy a sugary margarita at night. And to put this into perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 39 grams of added sugar, exceeding the recommended daily maximum in one fell swoop.
The good news is that with a little motivation and know-how, you can keep your added sugar intake in line with what the experts recommend without sacrificing taste or convenience. Here are five ways that you can reduce your added sugar intake:
Know what is considered an “added sugar.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to monitor when we are trying to limit our added sugar intake is the obvious word “sugar”? Unfortunately, added sugars go by many monikers, and some items that sound like better-for-you options can still contribute to some unsavory health outcomes just like added sugars can when consumed in excess.
Sure, some options like 100 percent pure maple syrup can offer some benefits that table sugar can’t, like being a source of nutrients like riboflavin and manganese, but when it comes to classifications, all these are “counted” as sources of added sugar:
- Anything used before the word sugar (cane, beet, brown, coconut, date, etc.)
- Any word ending in “-ose” (sucrose, lactose, maltose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, etc.)
- Anything with the word syrup (maple, agave, rice, corn, high fructose, etc.)
- Evaporated cane juice
- Agave nectar
- Barley malt
To make navigating the ingredients a bit easier, the Food and Drug Administration now requires all food labels to specify how many grams of added sugar is in a food. So if you are unsure, simply look at the back of your food package to know whether it contains added sugars.
Explore certain sugar substitutes when sweetness is needed.
Sugar alternatives are nothing new to us, and more options are becoming available as the years go on. These items are used to give our dishes and beverages a sweet taste without elevating our blood sugars or contributing a significant amount of calories. From stevia to saccharine to old-school pink packets, the options are a plenty.
Choosing options that taste similar to table sugar appears to be a route that people enjoy because they don’t feel like they are “giving up” their favorite taste when they are supporting their overall health.
Just keep in mind that enjoying some options, especially those that are not made from natural sources, can come with some risk, like negatively altering the gut microbiome and contributing to the development of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Use fruit juice as an ingredient.
When you need something sweet for your dishes but don’t want any added sugars, leaning on 100 percent fruit juices can be a lifesaver. Sure, juices like 100 percent orange juice contain sugar, but all the sugars found in this beverage are not considered to be added sugars, and therefore don’t “count” toward your quota for the day.
Plus, using these juices gives your body some additional nutrients. Like in the case of 100 percent orange juice, when you include this yummy liquid in your marinades, sauces and baked goods, you not only get a satisfying taste, but you also get a boost of vitamin C, thiamin, folate, and many unique antioxidants and polyphenols that you won’t get when you use traditional sugar or sugary syrups. And many of us can certainly benefit from taking in more nutrients in our diets.
Fruit juices can be a great addition to marinades when you want something sweet but you don’t want the added sugars. Also, 100 percent pineapple juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice go well with a dash of soy sauce and lots of herbs and spices like garlic and red pepper flakes.
Just remember that although fruit juices do not contain added sugars, they do have natural sugars. While some fruit juice is A-OK, overdoing it can work against your health goals over the long run.
Watch your sauces.
There are some obvious foods that contain added sugars like candies, cakes and ice creams. But foods like pasta sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce aren’t always top of mind when considering which foods contain this ingredient.
Enjoying a serving of jarred pasta sauce can contain upward of 7 grams of added sugar. And 2 tablespoons of pre-made barbecue sauce can set you back a whopping 16 grams of added sugar.
Of course, there are some pre-made options that contain zero added sugar. Your best bet is to check the nutrition label before you make your purchase to ensure the option you are tossing in your grocery cart isn’t loaded with the sweet stuff.
Examine your fat-free items.
There is no denying that fat can make food taste great. But understandably, some people want to reduce their fat intake, and they assume that opting for fat-free alternatives is a healthy solution.
However, when fat is removed from foods like salad dressings, nut butter and baked goods, oftentimes sugar is added to make up for the missing taste that fat typically provides.
So while peanut butter made from only peanuts and salt contains no added sugars, a reduced-fat version typically contains between 3 and 5 grams. And if you tend to eat more than 1 tablespoon of peanut butter at a time, you can expect to watch the added sugar quantities compound. Similarly, fat-free cookies can become a sugar bomb once the fat is removed, too.
In some cases, sticking with classic versions of your favorite condiments and foods may help you reduce your added sugar intake — and it may make your dishes taste a bit more satisfying, too!