Reducing Added Sugar to 5% of Total Calories: Is it Impossible?
How mad would you be if you were holding a delicious frosting-topped cupcake, and someone ran up to you and knocked it out of your hand, and you had no choice but to watch it fall to the ground? I bet you would be pretty upset. Would you feel better if that person told you it was filled with a deadly poison, and they had just saved your life? Well, that’s kind of what the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to do for us regarding our sugar consumption. Back in 2002 the WHO recommended that only 10% of our calories come from added sugar; now they are saying it should probably only be 5% for best health. Obviously sugar isn’t poison, but most people are eating a lot more of it than they think. Sugar is added to way more foods than you would imagine–like most peanut butter, pasta sauce, and bread. And it’s contributing to the country’s high rate of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So that cupcake is unfortunately probably better off staying on the ground (most of the time anyway).
How much sugar does 5% even translate to for a standard 2000 calorie diet? It’s roughly 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories from added sugars. People currently average around 22 teaspoons a day, which is over three times the recommended amount! For myself and most women the recommended added sugar number is closer to 5 teaspoons, or 80 calories, since we need fewer calories than our larger male counterparts. Thankfully, the naturally occurring sugar found in whole fruits, vegetables (thank goodness I can continue my love affair with sweet potatoes), and dairy products like milk and plain yogurt are not considered added sugars. But all that sugary creamer we add to our coffee, eat in our granola, and even the sauce we ladle on top of our spaghetti is loaded down, contributing nothing to our overall health.
Is it even possible to only eat around 100 calories of added sugar per day? Of course it is. And should we do it? Of course we should. But it’s not necessarily easy to do in our society. Of course, if it were easy, we would already be doing it. Thankfully, it’s never too late to start!
The first step in reducing your overall added sugar intake is figuring out what foods you already eat that have it. I pulled out some foods from my own fridge. Yes, juice should be considered added sugar because it lacks fiber and the same health benefits of whole fruit. That’s my husbands OJ (he knows how I feel about juice!), but I will admit that the Annie’s dressing, and Honey Stingers are mine.
These foods contain naturally occurring sugar: whole fruits, whole vegetables, and unadulterated dairy foods like non-flavored yogurts and milk–keep eating those.
If everyone plans to start eating less sugar, then it helps to know how much is in the foods we commonly eat. Every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon, so that 100 calorie daily sugar limit is equal to about 24 grams of sugar, or 6 teaspoons.
Grams of added sugar per serving in common foods:
- Oikos vanilla Greek yogurt (5.3 oz): 12 grams = 3 teaspoons =48 calories.
- Silk original almond milk (1 cup): 6 grams = 1 1/2 teaspoons = 24 calories
- Quaker apples & cinnamon instant oatmeal: 12 grams = 3 teaspoons; = 48 calories
- Bear Naked honey almond granola (1/4 cup): 5 grams = 1 1/4 teaspoon = 20 calories
- Sara Lee whole wheat bread (1 slice): 2 grams = 1/2 teaspoon = 8 calories
- Peter Pan creamy peanut butter (2 tbsp): 3 grams = 3/4 teaspoon = 12 calories
- Ragu Garden spaghetti sauce (1/2 cup): 6 grams = 1 1/2 teaspoons = 24 calories
- Bailey’s coffee creamer (1 tbsp): 5 grams = 1 1/4 tsp = 20 calories (double that though, because no one uses 1 tbsp of creamer)
- 100% Orange juice (8 oz): there is no fiber, so all sugar is added: 22 grams = 5 1/2 teaspoons = 88 calories
- Starbucks grande caramel latte: 18 grams = 4 1/2 teaspoons = 72 calories
- Dark chocolate Hershey Kisses (for 3 kisses): 7 grams = 1 3/4 teaspoons = 28 calories
- Honey Stingers Energy Chews: this is personal, I eat these on my long runs. 27 grams = 6 3/4 teaspoons = 108 calories. Guess I should go buy some more dried dates.
You could easily hit the 5% just by using 2 tbsp of flavored creamer in your coffee, and eating a flavored yogurt with a piece of toast for breakfast. That’s not even counting lunch, dinner, or dessert!
What to eat instead:
It’s not impossible to cut down. Start by eating plain yogurt and sweeten it naturally with fruit and only 1 tsp honey instead of the 3 in the flavored yogurt, switching to half and half or unsweetened almond milk in your coffee, buying peanut butter with only nuts and salt as ingredients, trying a more wholesome bread like Ezekial brand, and getting no sugar added pasta sauce.
I challenge you for one day to look at the labels on all your food and find out how much added sugar you are eating. If you are eating around 15% of your daily calories from added sugar, a good goal would be to cut it down to 10%. Small steps can equal big changes. What can you switch out today for less sugar in your diet?