Sugars can be naturally occurring, such as lactose in milk or fructose in fruit, or they can be added to foods in forms like refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or honey. All sugars are treated the same by the body and are broken down into glucose. Glucose is used as an energy source for red blood cells, the brain and central nervous system.
It is the added sugars that are of concern in the diet, because they don’t provide any nutrients like the calcium in milk or vitamin C in orange juice. The added sugars are referred to as “empty calories.” For optimal health, we want to get as many nutrients out of our calories as we can by consuming nutrient-dense foods and to balance our calorie intake with what our body uses to maintain a healthy weight.
The major sources of added sugars in the U.S. are regular soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, candies, cakes and cookies. Consuming too many calories from these items may contribute to weight gain or result in eating less of the nutrient-dense foods.
Sugars are also hidden in processed foods. Check the food label. On the nutrition facts label, sugar is listed with the number of grams. However, this includes both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. So look at the ingredient list to see if it has added sugars. The higher on the list or the more types listed, the more sugar the product contains.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men of added sugars per day.
So take a look at how you spend your calories and sugar down to get the most nutrition. Eat high-sugar foods in moderation and choose foods with no added sugar whenever possible.
Check out these tips for lowering the amount of sugar you consume:
• Think your drink: Switch the majority of your beverage choices to un-sweetened drinks like water or unsweetened tea or coffee.
• Portion control: When you indulge in high sugar desserts or snacks, eat a smaller portion. Try having one scoop of ice cream instead of three.
• Read the labels: Look at the ingredient lists on processed foods to see if there are added sugars in the product.
• Natural is sugar, too: Watch out for natural sweeteners like honey, molasses or maple syrup added to foods. Even though these may have more nutrients, they still are sugar.
• Shop the perimeter: Concentrate on eating foods from the perimeter of the grocery store such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products rather than processed foods from the center aisles.
• Make a breakfast swap: Switch your cereal to one with little added sugar.
• Flavor it yourself: Instead of buying fruit yogurt, buy the plain and add your own fruit. Often, the fruit in flavored yogurt is sweetened.
• Check the can: Buy canned fruits in water or natural juice instead of syrup.
• Bake with less: When baking, cut the amount of sugar by one measuring cup. This usually works just fine.
• Be aware: Keep a journal of what you eat to see where sugar creeps into your diet.
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For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-444-9584.