Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture have issued new dietary guidelines every five years.
One of the most significant recent recommendations is to cut back on added sugars to no more than 10 percent of one’s daily caloric intake. Sugar consumption can result in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and more.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar (48 grams) on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Soda, cakes, cookies and sugary cereals are the biggest and among the most well-known culprits. (Did you know that a regular can of Coke packs a whopping 39 grams of sugar? More than nine teaspoons!) But sugar also lurks in some other, more unsuspecting, places. Condiments, dried fruit, pasta sauces, fruit juice and frozen foods are just a few.
So how can we eliminate the added sugars found in so many of the foods we eat?
Cut down on sugary cereals and oatmeal, and opt instead for a breakfast smoothie with an avocado base. Avocado is packed with fiber and potassium. Add some protein powder for a “full” feeling. Prevention recommends adding as many greens as possible to smoothies, like “kale, spinach, collard greens” to yield “less sugar… and more antioxidants, fiber and other vital nutrients.” What about yogurt as a base? A six-ounce container of yogurt with added fruit can contain about 14 grams of sugar in addition to the approximately 12 grams of sugars naturally occurring in the lactose, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Say goodbye to soda and artificially-sweetened fruit juices and teas. But don’t replace it with sugar-filled flavored waters, tasty though they may be. Rather, add freshly-cut fruit to plain water or freeze small pieces of fruit in an ice cube tray and use them to cool your glass of water – with a refreshing kick! If flavored water doesn’t appeal to you, consider increasing the amount of plain water you drink. By drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water daily, you will feel fuller and it may even kick your metabolism up a bit.
Understand food labels. Health.com says that “Sugar hides under several sneaky names, including high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, invert sugar, molasses, sucrose (or any word ending in “-ose”), brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup. These can be listed separately on ingredients lists, so many foods… may contain three or four different types of sweetener. If several sugars appear on the label, it’s an indication that the food is less healthy than you may think.”
Bake with substitutes. Rather than add sugar to muffins and other baked goods, substitute the recipe’s amount of sugar with unsweetened applesauce. Cut back gradually to give your taste buds a chance to get used to the change. Other sugar substitutes include vanilla bean or extract, cinnamon, nutmeg or citrus zests, according to Health.com.
These are just a few steps in the right direction. Changing one’s diet takes time, persistence and a commitment to a healthier life.
Lauren B. Schiffman is Director of Communications for Century Health Systems, the parent company of the Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options.