How to Eat Less Sugar

Sarah B. Weir, Shine Senior Writer
Is sugar toxic?
Is sugar toxic?

Americans consume about 130 pounds of sugar per person per year. The April 1 st '60 Minutes' segment Is Sugar Toxic? spotlights how our collective sweet tooth is contributing to serious health risks including obesity, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. Avoiding sugar, however, is trickier than you think. Most processed food contains added sugar-and the grams add up quickly.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women limit their sugar intake to six teaspoons over the course of one whole day. The AHA wants men to stick to less then 9 teaspoons, and for kids 4 to 8 years old, only 3 teaspoons of sugar are allowed.

Six teaspoons of sugar might seem like a lot since you wouldn't eat that much at one time. Or would you?

These foods each contain about 24 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars:

· 3/4 of a can of Coke

· Half a bag of Skittles

· 1/2 cup of Haagen-Daz sorbet

· One 6-ounce container of Yoplait yogurt

· 3.5 tablespoons of Kraft Honey BBQ sauce

If you add a teaspoon to your morning coffee and then eat a bowl of lightly sweetened cereal, you have already consumed the maximum recommended amount for the day. Heavily sugared cereals such as Kellogg's Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and General Mills Wheaties Fuel, all contain about 20 grams of sugar, or five teaspoons, per serving.

The no-so-sweet news is that most people eat about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day (or nearly six times as much as its healthy to consume). Of all age groups, 14 to 18 year-olds consume the most. The average teen eats about 34 teaspoons a day, mostly through drinking soft drinks.

How to read labels
Determining how much added sugar a product contains is tricky because manufacturers are not required to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars (such as those that occur in fruit) and added sugars on nutritional labels. The Harvard School of Public Health suggests avoiding foods that have any form of sugar close to the top of the ingredients list since ingredients are listed in order by weight. They also recommend avoiding for foods that include more than one type of added sugar in their ingredients.

When reading labels, look out for these items, they are all a form of sugar:

  • Brown sugar

  • Cane juice and cane syrup

  • Confectioners' sugar

  • Corn sweeteners and corn syrup

  • Dextrose

  • Fructose

  • Fruit juice concentrate

  • Glucose

  • Granulated white sugar

  • High fructose corn syrup

  • Honey

  • Invert sugar

  • Lactose

  • Maltose

  • Malt syrup

  • Molasses

  • Sucrose

  • Syrup

  • White sugar

The Mayo Clinic offers tips for reducing your sugar intake. For most families, the first steps include cutting back on candy and gum, avoiding soft drinks, choosing breakfast cereal carefully, and limiting cakes, cookies, and doughnuts to special occasions. This will dramatically reduce your consumption. Substitute fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy and you'll be getting a major nutritional boost while avoiding the health risks associated with sugar.