100 Days of Fitness
by Lauren Squier, MPH, RD
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons (88 grams) of added sugar per day. That’s nearly a ½ cup sugar! By comparison, the American Heart Association recommends women limit their intake to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) and men to 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day. 
Why Should We Limit Sugar?
Consuming added sugar regularly contributes to mood and energy swings, inflammation, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and perhaps Alzheimer’s disease.1 Research shows that in some people eating sugar invokes cravings, withdrawl, and chemical changes in the brain’s reward center. Consuming too much added sugar over time also disrupts hormones in the body that control appetite and weight thus contributing to obesity.
Plus, high-sugar foods often replace more healthful foods. According to USDA, people who have diets high in sugar get less calcium, fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, and iron. They also consume fewer fruits and vegetables. Yikes!
How Do We Limit Sugar?
Did you know that pasta sauce, soup, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, bread, and nut butters are often hidden sources of sugar? In fact, added sugars are found in 74% of packaged foods.2 You really need to be a detective to locate and avoid added sugars. Or you can choose mostly unprocessed foods and avoid added sugars all together.
The best way to uncover hidden sources of sugar in food is by reading the ingredient list. In addition, you will find it under “Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label. The tricky part is that even naturally sweet foods such as a ½ cup of pineapple chunks has 16 grams of sugars. Don’t be too concerned about these naturally occurring sugars because you are also getting fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals. Unfortunately, an “Added Sugars” line is not currently required on the Nutrition Facts label, but will be by 2020.
A few more things to consider:
- Did you know you can train your taste buds? By choosing naturally sugar free foods and beverages, your taste buds will adjust to detect more subtle sweetness and flavor over time. There are a ton of naturally sugar free recipes available here. Train your taste buds to enjoy unsweetened foods and beverages.
- How much nutrition are you going to get along with sugar? For instance, you get a few teaspoons of sugar in flavored yogurt, but you also get vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Yay! Or train your taste buds to enjoy Siggi’s new line of no added sugar fruit flavored yogurts.
- When you do indulge, choose natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, dates, agave, or coconut sugar in limited quantities. If looking for a sugar substitute, Stevia is virtually calorie free and hundreds of times sweeter than sugar; more research is needed on long-term use, but occasional use is probably fine.
If you are struggling with your sugar intake or cravings, consider a sugar “detox”. By avoiding sugar for a week or more, your taste buds will adjust and your mood and energy swings will subside. Check out Prevention magazine’s 7-day Sugar Detox which includes a meal plan (scroll half-way down the webpage). Or join an online community with plentiful support and resources such as The 21-day Sugar Detox program.
Questions about any of the above? Need more guidance? Email the expert! Lauren welcomes questions and is always happy to share more tips and tricks with anyone who asks so… ask away!
Lauren Squier, MPH, RD
Lauren Squier, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, trained chef and owner of Culinary Enlightenment. Lauren’s nutrition background and culinary skills provide a unique blend of resources to help people plan meals, shop, cook, and eat better. For more than a decade, she has been teaching nutrition to children, adults and families through healthy cooking and eating.
Read more about Lauren here. Reach out to her via her website or better yet come to bootcamp and talk to her in person about your nutrition challenges. She has a lot of knowledge and is always ready to share it.