There’s one fairly simple resolution almost every one of us could make for 2017 that would have an enormous impact on our health: Eat less sugar. Did you know that the average American consumes almost 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture?
That’s more than four times higher than the most recent national health recommendations. When researchers from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and Albert Einstein College of Medicine compared the effects of sugar and fat on cardiac health, they got a surprise: Sugar was worse.
Studies have also linked sugar to cancer, Alzheimer’s and other serious health conditions and shown that sugar, not fat, may pose the biggest risk to heart health. Not to mention obesity and diabetes.
For this reason, the National Institute of Health and the American Heart Association recommend no more than:
- 6 teaspoons (about 24 grams, or 100 calories) of added sugar a day for women
- 9 teaspoons (about 36 grams, or 150 calories) of added sugar a day for men
What can you do to lower your sugar intake?
Stop Drinking Sugar. First and foremost on the list is give up soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, which account for almost half the added sugar consumed by most Americans. (Hint: one can of soda pop contains 10 teaspoons of sugar.) And studies show U.S. teens drink twice as much soda as milk. But wait, soft drinks aren’t the only culprit. The same amount of apple juice contains almost exactly the same amount! While fruit juice contains more nutrients and at least some of the sugar comes from natural sugars, it’s really not much better for you. Instead, drink water and carbonated water. If that’s too boring, spark it up by squeezing lemon or orange juice into your water bottle and vary your beverage intake with unsweetened herb tea. And can we just say, forget that machiato?
Beware Dairy. Many dairy products are high in natural sugars, and some have added sugars as well. Thanks to the natural milk sugar known as lactase, one glass of skim milk has 12 grams of sugar – half your recommended daily dose. While yogurt is considered a healthy food, most flavored yogurts are very high in added sugar, and some have more than ice cream! Dannon’s chocolate and caramel flavors have 32 grams per serving, while seemingly healthy Fage honey yogurt is the worst with 36 grams (9 teaspoons).
Read Labels. New government labeling requirements going into effect this year make it much easier to suss out sugars hidden in packaged foods. When shopping, check how many grams of sugar are in your favorite cereals, sauces, soups, and prepared meals. And be sure to note portion size; savvy manufacturers try to hide sugar content by using much smaller portion sizes than you’re likely to eat.