Tips for Reducing Added Sugars in Your Diet
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed significant changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) found on packaged foods in the U.S. Included in the FDA’s proposed changes is the addition of a line item for “added sugars.”
You may be asking, doesn’t the nutrition label already contain information about sugar? Yes, it does. So what’s new here?
Natural vs. Added Sugar
If this change is accepted, the new label will still display total grams of sugar (natural + added) while also providing a line item for the grams of added sugar. This will help the health-conscious (that’s you!) differentiate between the naturally-occurring sugar in a product (think lactose in milk, or fructose in your apple), and the sugar or syrup that has been added during processing for taste and other reasons. Added sugars may be in the form of:
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malt syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- And many more!
Added sugars in foods are considered “empty calories,” meaning they contain little to no nutrient value, and are found in sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, baked goods, flavored yogurts, breads, cereals, condiments and countless other foods. As an example, I’m a ketchup addict and can easily polish off a half cup with a veggie burger patty…for a whopping 25 grams of sugar from the ketchup alone. Yikes! Thank goodness I opt for lower-sugar and lower-sodium brands whenever possible.
Americans gobble 16 percent of their total calories in the form of added sugars, according to the FDA. Consumption of fewer calories from added sugar is recommended because sugar can lead to weight gain and spikes in blood sugar levels.
Until added sugar makes its debut on the nutrition label, two good rules of thumb are to avoid products that have sugar listed as one of the first few ingredients and/or for which there are multiple sources of added sugars. In addition, women should aim to cap their daily sugar intake at 24 grams (6 teaspoons) while men should limit intake to 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day.
Tips for Avoiding Added Sugar
Until the FDA unveils the updated label, be a savvy shopper and avoid added sugars by:
- Ditching sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, sports drinks and juices. Opt for water, water and more water instead.
- Choosing fresh fruit or canned and dried fruit without any added sugars
- Reducing the amount of sugar in your baked goods recipes. Experiment with adding half or three-quarters of the sugar that the recipe calls for, or try unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana as a substitute
- Choosing plain yogurt over flavored/blended and doctoring it up with your favorite combo of fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds, and cinnamon and other spices
Please share! How do you curb your sugar intake?
Krista Ulatowski, MPH, RD, is based in Seattle, where she practices in the areas of nutrition writing, marketing and social media. She also counsels clients in weight loss and corporate wellness settings. Follow her at @PhytoK or send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.