They're calling to you: the cookies in your cupboard, the sweet mint chocolate chip ice cream in your freezer or the candy bar you slipped in your purse for a mid-afternoon snack. Sugary foods are tasty and addictive, but in the grand nutritional scheme, you don't need sugar at all -- and too much can contribute to excess weight and other health problems. By limiting your sugar intake each day, you can maintain a healthier weight and minimize your risk of diabetes.
Added Vs. Natural Sugars
When it comes to nutrition, the term sugar can be misleading. That's because some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, have natural sugars. While these foods can impact your blood sugar, they also contain vitamins and minerals vital for good health. Other foods, such as desserts and sodas, have added sugars. These do not occur naturally -- manufacturers add them to enhance flavor. Added sugars are a concern because they are typically incorporated into foods with little nutritional value. The daily recommended sugar allowance refers to added sugars, not those that are naturally occurring.
The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 100 calories per day from sugar. This is about 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. While this may seem like a lot, remember that one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar. If you finish even one soda, you've already exceeded your daily recommended intake. Most Americans consume about 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar each day, according to Rodale.
Recognizing Added Sugars
Take a slice of apple pie. It has both natural sugars from the apples and likely added sugars to enhance sweetness. Yet on a food label, these sugars are lumped together. This can make it tricky to recognize how close you are to meeting your daily sugar intake. For example, a slice of whole-wheat bread has 5.57 grams of sugar, 5 grams of which are added, according to Rodale. Fruit-flavored yogurt contains 19 grams of sugar, 11.4 grams of which are added. In the event you don't have a handy nutritional guide available, read the food label for words ending in "-ose," which indicates the food contains added sugars. Examples include maltose and sucrose. Other added sweeteners include high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, syrup and honey. Whenever possible, avoid these added sugars in favor of natural ones.
Making the Switch
Excess sugar intake is associated with an increased risk for obesity and a lower intake of essential vitamins such as zinc, vitamin A and iron. While there's plenty of reasons to avoid sugar, the reality is that it's a tough habit to kick. To reduce your sugar intake to meet daily recommendations, switch canned fruits for fresh and look for sugar-free or no-sugar-added options when possible. You also can cut the amount of sugar in a recipe by one-third to one-half, or substitute lemon, vanilla or orange extracts for sugar in a recipe. You don't have to kick sugar all at once. Slowly start to reduce your intake and you're likely to find you don't miss the sugar or the extra pounds it packs on.
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