Photo: Sugar assortment

by Sabra Leomo, RD

Most of us are looking to establish healthy eating habits in the New Year. Most people consume more sugar than they realize. The obvious sources of added sugar are candy, cookies, and pastries as well as sugar-sweetened beverages like juice, soda, and sports drinks. Added sugar also lurks in seemingly innocent foods like peanut butter, bread, marinara sauce, and salad dressing. It’s no wonder people are consuming more sugar than they think! Added sugars are sugars or syrups that are added to foods during processing. They are different than the naturally occurring sugars that are found in fruits and dairy products like plain yogurt and milk. Consuming too much added sugar in your diet can put you at risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions. Sugar doesn’t provide any beneficial nutrients to your diet but contributes to additional calories that can lead to weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of added sugar for men and 25 grams or less for women.

The Nutrition Facts Label is getting a makeover and many food items already have updated labels. The new label will include an additional line that shows grams of added sugar. This will help people determine how much sugar is being added to foods during processing versus naturally occurring sugar. Your best bet is to stick with whole, unprocessed foods that don’t have additional ingredients or processing. However, if you do pick up a packaged food item the new label will help you make healthier choices.

Measure It - If you could visualize how much sugar is in that sugar-sweetened beverage you might think a bit harder about drinking it. It is hard to interpret the grams of sugar that we see on the Nutrition Facts label. Teaspoons are an easier measurement for most of us to understand. To calculate how many teaspoons of sugar, all you need to do is divide the grams of sugar on the label by 4. For example, if a soda has 40 grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label then you are consuming around 10 teaspoons of sugar! Try measuring out 10 teaspoons of sugar and put it in a container so that you can visualize how much sugar is really in your drink.

Spice It Up - When you decrease added sugar in your diet you can add spices to create new and exciting flavors. Cinnamon and other spices like nutmeg add flavor and bring out the natural sweetness of the foods you are eating. Try adding cinnamon to your oatmeal instead of sugar or even add a little cinnamon to your coffee when you brew it.

A Spoonful of Sugar - I like to bake and enjoy the occasional treat. However, most baked goods don’t need the full amount of sugar listed on the recipe. When I bake at home I always decrease the sugar in recipes by 25% and my family is none the wiser. You can start by decreasing the sugar in your favorite recipes by 10% (remove 5 teaspoons from every cup of sugar) and then remove more sugar the next time until you find your “sweet” spot.

Cravings - Can’t shake the urge to have a treat after dinner? Try eating fresh fruit to tame your cravings. Fruit contains naturally-occurring sugar which makes it the perfect sweet treat. Fruit also contains amazing vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants. Papaya with a little squeeze of lime juice or a handful of berries are really refreshing and satisfying. You can freeze grapes for a cold treat or make a creamy banana “nice” cream. Add frozen banana chunks and a little water to a food processor and puree until the banana becomes a creamy and rich consistency. Who knew a banana and some water could taste so decadent? You can also add a few berries, spices like cinnamon, or some pure extracts for variety (a small spoonful of peanut butter is also delicious!).

Healthy Hydration - Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, juice drinks, and sports drinks are major sources of added sugar. Take small steps in 2019 to decrease the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages you drink every day. You don’t have to eliminate them completely by tomorrow. Instead, set an attainable goal and work towards that goal. Maybe you currently drink 2 sugar-sweetened beverages every day. Set a goal to decrease the amount to 1 per day. When you successfully meet that goal, work towards further decreasing the amount. Think small and sustainable changes! Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water, herbal tea (try all the amazing flavors from fruity to dessert teas), or green/black tea. Be mindful that regular teas contain caffeine if you are sensitive to caffeine. Find a water bottle that you enjoy drinking from so you always have water available. Some people find they drink more when they use a straw. There are wonderful reusable straws made from glass and metal to everything in between. Many reusable straws come with convenient carrying pouches so they stay clean in your purse or backpack.

Reducing added sugar in your diet is a sweet habit to establish in 2019. Added sugar can contribute to obesity and many chronic diseases. Work towards finding your “sweet spot” and developing healthy eating habits by reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet with small and sustainable changes. Those small steps can lead to a healthier and happier you!