Cake The average teen eats 28 teaspoons of added sugar A DAY. (CAKE: Tom Grill / Corbis; KIDS: iStockPhoto)

Are You a Sugar Addict?

Most of us are taking in way more sugar than we realize.

By Jennifer Dignan and null

On an average day—not Halloween, not your birthday—how much sugar do you consume? Five teaspoons? Ten? If you’re like most people, the answer is, a lot more than you think.

The fact is, it’s easy to take in vast quantities of sugar. Some foods, such as fruit and milk, contain naturally occurring sugars. Other foods contain added sugar, or sugar that was put in during preparation or processing. Naturally occurring sugars are better for you than added sugars, but both types are high in calories.

As you might expect, treats like candy and cookies have loads of added sugar. But added sugar lurks in many unexpected places as well—in ketchup, salad dressing, and yogurt, for example.

Some of the worst offenders are beverages. In fact, soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened iced teas are the biggest source of added sugar in American diets. Just one 20-ounce soda contains a whopping 16 teaspoons of sugar.

So how about juice? Juice is healthy, right? Not so, says Keith Ayoob, a professor of pediatric nutrition at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Juices, even those without any added sugar, have just as much sugar as soda. That’s because fruit is naturally high in sugar. And, Ayoob explains, when you drink juice, “You aren’t getting the nutritional value of a fruit, like fiber and antioxidants.” On top of that, juice won’t fill you up the way a piece of fruit will. Ayoob’s advice is to drink no more than 8 ounces of juice a day, or 12 if you’re very active—and go for the orange instead of the O.J.

A BROWNIE FOR A BANANA?

Consuming too much sugar can do serious damage to your health. Excess sugar intake can cause obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Having a lot of sugar in your diet now puts you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke later in life. Sugar has also been linked to depression, fatigue, anxiety, poor concentration, and mood swings.

Most of us aren’t going to give up the sweet stuff entirely, though—and that’s OK, says Ayoob. The key is to eat better, not to eliminate sugar completely. Try eating a greater amount of healthy, filling foods; you’ll have less room for the sugary stuff. And make a few substitutions—water instead of that sports drink, a banana instead of that brownie.

If having fruit for dessert sounds crazy to you, Ayoob advises that you “retrain your palate.” He says, “If you don’t find fruit sweet enough, something is wrong. You need to stay off highly sweetened foods so you can appreciate fruit again.”

Cutting down on sugar may be a challenge, but the results will be sweet.

This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Choices. For more from Choices, click here.

 

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