A couple of weeks ago we talked about how to stop sugar cravings before they start, and today it’s time to tackle the issue of added sugar. You might not realize it, but there’s sugar hiding in all sorts of products within the aisles of our grocery stores – even foods that don’t taste sweet at all! My hope for this post is definitely not to turn you into a sugar-phobe who never touches the stuff, but instead, to be more aware of where it might be sneaking into your meals. Sound good? Let’s get started!
First things first: Recommended daily added sugar limits
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women limit added sugars to 100 calories per day, or about 6 tsp/20g. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of daily calories (but ideally 5%), or 25g come from free sugars. (For a woman on a 2000 calorie diet, 5% would be 100 calories.) Note that the key word here is added sugar, meaning that someone has intentionally added more sugar to a food than was naturally present in it. That could be straight-up white sugar, or a natural sweetener like honey, maple syrup or fruit juice.
One of the most important things to realize is that just because sugars are natural, it doesn’t mean we should go about eating tons of them. Foods like maple syrup and honey do have their merits (antimicrobial properties, healing properties, trace minerals, etc) and are certainly more health-building than the ones we know to avoid like high-fructose corn syrup. But they still impact blood sugar, and when our bodies are constantly dealing with blood sugar levels that quickly soar up and come plummeting down, we feel it in the form of things like:
- energy crashes
- mood swings
- gut/digestion problems
- sugar cravings
- low libido
- …and many more not-nice longer-term implications.
We can avoid these things by eating more blood sugar balancing meals containing foods that slow down the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream (like those rich in fibre, fat and protein), or don’t impact it nearly as much as sugar does. Fruit, for example, does contain naturally-occurring sugar, but it also provides us with fibre (needed for good digestion) and a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals our bodies need. That fibre slows the rate of digestion, which not only helps us avoid all the issues above, but keeps you full for longer than, say, a bag of candy with the same number of grams of sugar.
(Side note: Dried fruit on the other hand, often does contain added sugar because manufacturers use it as a preservative. That means those added sugars would count towards the 20/25g added sugar limit.)
Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting you count each and every gram.
Let’s be real – nobody has time for that! I’m also not suggesting that NEVER eating foods with added sugar is a good idea because life is far too short to be that rigid and restrictive. With that said, you can easily avoid eating more sugar than you intend to by keeping an eye out for it in all forms, which are…
The –ose family: Dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, saccharose, sucrose.
Then, there’s all of these: Agave nectar, barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, caramel, carob syrup, coconut palm sugar, coconut nectar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, date sugar, demerara sugar, dextrin, dextran, diatase, fruit juice, golden syrup, honey, maltodextrin, maltol, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, palm sugar, sorghum syrup, turbinado sugar,
Easy food swaps to help you decrease sugar intake
As I’m sure you’ve heard before, one of the easiest ways to avoid sugar is to avoid foods with a label. Apples for example, don’t need an ingredient list because there is just one ingredient! But most of us shop in the aisles of the grocery store at some point, and there are some common suspects to watch out for. Again, the idea isn’t to suggest that foods containing added sugar are the devil. Rather, it’s to bring some awareness to where you might be consuming more than you intend.
If you currently eat a lot of sugar, a first step might be doing just ONE of the swaps below per day. If that doesn’t sound like it would make a big difference, pretend that you drink a can of regular Coke per day. Swap that one daily can with an unsweetened drink, you’d save 9.3 tsp added sugar per day, 6 cups per month, and 70.7 cups per year! Now that is crazy!
Here’s an easy-to-pin (or print, or screenshot) list you can keep handy next time you’re looking for lower-sugar choices:
This post is part of Sugar Free May, a month-long conversation about reducing sugar consumption. I’ll be serving up lots of sugar-free recipes, meal ideas, tips for eliminating cravings, healthier food swaps, and more. If you’d like to take it a step further and truly make this part of your lifestyle, be sure to check out the Feel Better Sugar Detox. It’s a flexible plan that’ll help you cut sugar, improve gut health and weight management, stabilize mood and energy levels, and set you up with the tools you need to maintain the results long term.