Reduce Intake of Added Sugars

1. Check food labels. The higher up on the ingredient list sugars appear, the more added sugar the product contains. In addition to honey, molasses and syrup look for words ending in “ose” like galactose and sucrose. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website where you can check the added sugar content of selected foods.

2. Reduce over time. Adjust your taste for less sweet foods by gradually reducing the amount of sugar you add to cereal, coffee and tea and gradually choosing foods that have less sugar such as natural fruit juice or plain milk instead of chocolate.

3. Satisfy your sweet tooth with healthy snacks. Consider fruit, low sugar cereal or add your own fruit to plain yogurt.

4. Watch what you drink. Soft drinks account for almost half of the added sugars in the American diet, but many ready-to-drink teas, juice drinks and sports drinks are loaded with sugar. For healthier drinks, spike water with a few ounces of strongly flavored tea, a generous squeeze of lemon or lime or ice cubes made of plain (no-sugar-added) fruit juice. Blend your own smoothies from fresh or frozen, no-sugar-added fruit, non-fat yogurt and ice.

5. Substitute with spices. Add sweetness and flavor to food with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and nutmeg. Muffins and quick breads can be made with 25 percent less sugar, and the sugar in homemade applesauce and pie fillings can be cut in half. Try substituting 100 percent fruit juice for honey or other liquid sweeteners.

Sugar consumed in its natural state – as a component of fresh fruits and vegetables – energizes the body. However, sugar is also a flavor booster and a preservative, which is why it is routinely added during the processing of packaged foods, canned foods and food mixes. It is also the main ingredient in soda, snacks and most desserts. Over time, all of this added sugar can cause glucose (blood sugar) levels to rise quickly, which often makes the body sluggish and inefficient.

We consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugars every day. That’s 350 calories without any nutritional value and well beyond health expert recommendations of no more than 100 calories a day (about six teaspoons) for women or 150 calories (about nine teaspoons) for men. High intake of added sugars is associated with several serious health conditions now affecting Americans and Canadians in record numbers: obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and tooth decay.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines of America call for reducing sugar consumption, but with it permeating many of the foods that we eat, cutting sugar out is difficult. The worst offenders are carbonated soft drinks – the most popular beverages – and other thirst quenchers like sports drinks and sugar-added fruit juices. A single 12-ounce can of regular soda (150 calories on average) exceeds the added sugar recommendation, and Americans average at least two cans every day. Added sugars also turn up in foods that do not necessarily taste sweet. Canned soups, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and plain yogurt all contain added sugars.

Determining a particular food’s sugar content is further complicated by the fact that there are many ways to list sugar as an ingredient without calling it sugar. High fructose corn syrup, crystal dextrose, honey and molasses are just some of sugar’s 50 plus other names.

When You Don’t Have Enough Sugar

Hypoglycemia happens when blood sugar is low. It can occur as a side effect of diabetes medication and hormone deficiency, skipping meals, consuming alcohol or not eating in conjunction with increased physical activity. Symptoms include hunger, sweating, light-headedness, confusion, sleepiness, anxiety and difficulty speaking. Hypoglycemia can be treated by immediately drinking juice, milk or a regular soft drink or eating several pieces of hard candy to quickly raise blood sugar. To avoid hypoglycemia, always take diabetes medication as directed, promptly make health care providers aware of any medication side effects, maintain a varied and balanced diet and eat at appropriate intervals.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]