Sugar is in almost everything we eat and drink. It occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and it’s often added to beverages and foods as a flavor enhancer.
It should come as no surprise that high-sugar diets are dangerous. An uncontrolled sweet tooth can lead to health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“Sugar and carbohydrates are very important nutrients our bodies need, but excess added sugars in the diet, meaning sugars that are added during processing, is associated with increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease," said Hallee Mitchell, a registered dietitian at MU Health Care.
Healthy eating doesn’t mean cutting all sugar from your diet. Instead, it means limiting your intake of added sugars that put unnecessary strain on your body. The American Heart Association recommends for women and children to consume less than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugars per day and for men to consume less than nine teaspoons (36 grams).
Here are three ways to ensure you and your loved ones consume safe quantities of added sugars:
- Limit processed foods: These are items families can buy in bulk and store for long periods. While this is convenient, Mitchell said to pay close attention to sugar content when purchasing these products.
"I like to describe processed foods as foods that you an make at home but they are convenient to buy, such as bread, pasta, canned foods, etc.," Mitchell said. "Highly processed foods you might not know how to make, such as cereal or fruit snacks, and often times have high amounts of sugar added during processing."
- Avoid sweet drinks: Many seemingly healthy beverages are actually loaded with sugar.
People usually don’t think twice about drinking milk and fruit juice throughout the day, but even 100% fruit juice contains a lot of sugar without the added benefit of fiber that comes from a whole piece of fruit. Also, flavored milks such as chocolate or strawberry milk are often perceived as being healthy, but in reality, sugar is added in order to flavor the milk, making it an unattractive option.
Mitchell noted she works with families daily to remind them what we eat impacts our health, and it can be challenging for families to replace sweet drinks with less exciting options such as water or unflavored milk.
- Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks: Food brands love to plaster their packaging with fun illustrations and words such as “healthy,” “lean” and “low fat.” Look past these marketing gimmicks and assess each item’s nutritional information and ingredient list.
Many food packages have attractive marketing with superhero themes that distract both parents and children from their unhealthy ingredients and high sugar content. If you read the nutritional information carefully, you will see that many "healthy" options are actually high in sugar and low in protein.
Mitchell also said people assume sports drinks are healthy. In reality, these beverages are extremely high in sugar, and they should only be consumed as fuel during prolonged periods of exercise. Otherwise, your body will convert the sugar into fat.