Too often, it seems the news we hear regarding diet and obesity isn’t very good: Reports continue to come in about how Americans as a whole are heavier than ever, and about how the majority of eaters are getting too much junk food and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I’m always disappointed when I hear this information—but not exactly surprised, since most of it is stuff that’s repeated all the time. So I was pretty excited when, for the first time in a while, I read about a positive development in Americans’ eating habits.
Believe it or not, added sugar consumption has fallen in the United States by about 4 percent since 1999, according to a study of 40,000 U.S. adults and kids over age 2. And since added sugars—that’s the extra stuff used to sweeten food, not the sugar found naturally in things like fruit or milk—have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, this is a very good thing. Researchers attribute the drop largely to a decrease in soda drinking, thanks in part to government and private organization efforts to educate eaters about the problems with taking in too much of the sweet stuff. The limits placed on sugary beverages in many schools across the country also played a role. Awesome!
But even though we’re eating less sugar than before (and there’s always a but, right?) experts say we’re still eating too much of it—and need to cut back even more. Currently, we’re averaging about 77 grams of sugar per day, but most kids should get no more than 16 grams, while most adults should stick with less than 32 grams. (The recommendations are based on total calories consumed—find your family’s sugar limits at heart.org.)
Clearly, we’ve got out work cut out for us. But what’s the best way to go about taking in (much) fewer added sugars? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as swapping high fructose corn syrup or refined white sugar for natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar. While the latter options may contain trace amounts of nutrients and offer some health benefits (honey’s a known antibacterial, and agave won’t cause your blood sugar to spike), foods with any type of sweetener contain added sugar.
I know, it’s sort of a bummer, but it also means that how you go about eating less added sugar is very simple: You just eat less of it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Choose plain yogurt instead of flavored, and sweeten it with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana instead of honey (remember, the sugar that occurs naturally in foods like fruit or milk is naturally-occurring, not added).
- Instead of flavoring your oatmeal with brown sugar, try a savory variety with butter and a pinch of salt or soy sauce.
- Skip store-bought granola and granola bars in favor of homemade, and sweeten them with all-natural apple juice and dried fruit.
- Make your own salad dressing instead of relying on store-bought, since packaged varieties tend to be loaded with sugar.
- Compare loaves of whole grain sandwich bread to find which brand has the least amount of added sugar. Some, like Food for Life 7 Sprouted Grains Bread, contain almost none.
- Sugar (and lots of it) is almost always added to jarred pasta sauce. Skip it, and make your own super quick by simmering crushed tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, and basil.
- Keep an eye out for sugar-heavy dipping sauces, like ketchup or honey mustard. Instead, offer your kids less-sweet options like plain yogurt with dill, unsweetened applesauce, or homemade salad dressing.
- Sweeten baked goods naturally with pureed fruit such as bananas, unsweetened applesauce, or dates that have been soaked and pureed.
- Swap cookies or graham crackers for roasted seasonal fruit or dried fruit.
- Eat it less often! You don’t have to avoid added sugar treats completely—just enjoy them on special occasions instead of every day.
Reprinted from KIWI Magazine