Many healthy foods, including fruit and dairy products, are high in sugar, a carbohydrate your body burns for energy. But processed sugars are different than the sugars that occur naturally in food. Processed sugars sweeten the flavor of food, but they add empty calories and, at excessive levels, can disrupt your metabolism, impeding your progress to your weight loss goal and posing serious health risks. Americans on average get about 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugars, according to an FDA report. But the USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend that added sugar account for less than five percent of your daily calories—that’s a maximum of 25 grams a day for average women and 37.5 grams for men.
The challenge is that processed sugar is listed under many aliases on food labels, so foods you’d assumed were healthy could actually be packed with sneaky added sugar When shopping, look for terms such as high-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS), evaporated corn sweetener, brown rice syrup, dextrose, maltose, barley malt, fruit nectar and cane juice, all sources of added sugar. To keep your sugar consumption in the healthy range, limit the added sugar in the food you buy and remember these simple ways to enjoy food without it:
1. Hold the Ketchup
You know baked goods and candy are loaded with added sugar, but so are many foods you don’t think of as especially sweet. A tablespoon of ketchup, for instance, has four grams of sugar, more than some brands’ chocolate chip cookies! Salsa, barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce and even bread are hidden sources of sugar to be mindful of, too.
2. Sweeten with Spices
Reduce or eliminate sugar from coffee, hot cereal and other foods by adding spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom, that have a naturally sweet taste.
3. Flavor your Water
A 12-ounce can of soda has as much as 40 grams of added sugar. Skip the soda and drink water sweetened with fresh fruit and herbs, like strawberries and basil or lime and mint.
4. Start with Plain
The fruit in the bottom of your yogurt can come with 25 or more grams of added sugar. Buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh or dried fruit.
5. Snack on Fruit
One cup of blueberries, for example, has seven grams of fructose to satisfy your sweet tooth, but the fruit also comes with fiber to help you feel full and slow the breakdown of the sugars, so you don’t crave more calories soon after eating it.
6. Bake with Applesauce
Eating fewer baked goods is sure to reduce your sugar intake, but when the occasion calls for you to make a cake, replace a third of the sugar in the recipe with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce. (Try this delicious recipe for no-sugar added applesauce!)
7. Eat Often
When you’re hungry, you crave calories and that too often leads to sugary snacks. Cut down on the between-meal munching by eating healthy, filling foods four to six times a day. Then you won’t need a candy bar to get you to the next meal.
*Nutritional information taken from the USDA website (https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods) on 8/8/2016.