At the top of almost everyone’s resolution list is eating healthier in the new year. Part of being healthy is understanding sugar.
The average American eats about 150 pounds of sugar each year, which equals 30 five-pound bags of sugar. There are 15 calories in one teaspoon or one packet of sugar. On average, we consume 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equals 330 calories.
However, the American Heart Association recommends the maximum daily intake of added sugars be no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men. Added sugars are a major source of calories in our diet but offer little to no nutritional value. They lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but promise to provide plenty of empty calories. However, it is important to remember that not all sugars are created equal. Three common types of sugar are sucrose or table sugar, lactose or milk sugar, and fructose or fruit sugar.
The difference is that the sugars in fruit and milk occur naturally in the food along with valuable nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Foods and drinks that have sugar added as part of the processing procedure contain almost no nutrients but have lots of calories. These calories do not satisfy the appetite the way calories from eating solid, healthy food do. Determining what foods contain sugar can be tricky, as sugar goes by many different names.
Some common terms for sugar often found on nutrition labels are: barley malt, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, powdered sugar and raw sugar.
Some common foods may be major sources of hidden sugars; some examples are prepacked oatmeal and ready-to-eat cereals, protein bars and meal replacement bars, salad dressings, granola/granola bars, yogurt, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, trail mix with dried fruit/chocolate, canned fruit, flavored milk, soy milk, almond milk, fruit snacks, tomato sauce and sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts.
Remember, when you are thirsty, your body is truly craving water, not soda, energy drinks, or a frozen coffee treat. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugars. Drinks like soda, iced tea, energy drinks, coffee drinks, and sports drinks can sometimes have as much as or even more sugar than a candy bar. Follow this general rule: one teaspoon = four grams sugar.
Here are some breakdowns: 20 oz. Mountain Dew = 77 grams of sugar or 19 teaspoons; 20 oz. Gatorade = 34 grams or 8.5 teaspoons; 18.5 oz. Pure Leaf Sweet Tea = 42 grams or 10.5 teaspoons; 8.4 oz. can of Red Bull = 27 grams or 6.75 teaspoons; 12 oz. can Sierra Mist = 37 grams or 9.25 teaspoons; 8 oz. carton of vanilla soy milk = 15 grams or 3.75 teaspoons.
Make 2014 your year to cut back on sugar and improve your health!
Jaclyn Hennemuth, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian with Beebe Healthcare, where she provides medical nutrition therapy for inpatients. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 2010 with a degree in dietetics, and currently serves as the treasurer for the Delaware Dietetic Association.