Who doesn’t love a sugary treat every once in a while? Well, that’s just the problem. Most sugar-heavy treats should only be reserved for special occasions. Today, more than half of the things we eat on a daily basis contain added sugars. According to a study conducted through the University of North Carolina in 2016, nearly 68% of all packaged or processed foods contained some form of added sugars. The American Heart Association advises no more than 9 teaspoons added sugars for men and no more than 6 teaspoons added sugars for women per day. However, most Americans are consuming about 22 teaspoons of added sugars daily, which is way above the limit.
So why should we be concerned with our daily sugar intake? First off, added sugars hold no nutritional value and pack on excessive calories, which can result in unwanted weight gain. Too much sugar in the blood can also lead to type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, or even heart disease. On top of that, high amounts of sugar in the diet are hazardous to dental health, as they feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay.
You might be wondering, what exactly is an “added sugar”? Any form of sugar that is not naturally occurring in a food or has been placed there through processing would be an added sugar. These can go by various names such as high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sucrose, agave nectar, glucose, dextrose, maltose, and evaporated cane juice, just to name a select few. Whether or not the foods you eat have a sweet taste, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a “healthy” item until you look at the ingredients.
That being said, what are some good substitutes to satisfy a sweet tooth? Try using honey and pure maple syrup in hot beverages. A sweet piece of fruit, which contains natural sugar, makes a much better snack than a calorie-dense pastry, for example. Substituting mashed banana in baking provides multiple health benefits that ordinary white sugar would not. Stevia is another great option, as it does not contain calories and does not affect blood sugar. When out grocery shopping, look for items that are either sugar free or reduced sugar.
Now this does not imply that added sugars are to be avoided at all costs, but be aware that added sugars are to be consumed in light amounts on occasion. A proper balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein gives some room for sweets in a healthy diet. Just be sure to stay active since sugar provides the body with a lot of energy!