It is rare to find someone who doesn't enjoy sweets. We love sweets because they not only taste good but also make us feel good. Between 1970 and 2005 intake of added sugars in our diets has jumped 20 percent. The average person now consumes 22 to 30 teaspoons added sugars a day. A recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that high sugar consumption plays as much a role in heart disease risk as dietary fats. Study participants with higher sugar consumption appeared to have lower HDL and higher triglyceride levels both of which can increase risk of heart disease. With the growing worldwide pandemic of obesity and heart disease the American Heart Association in 2009 released recommendations urging Americans to slash their sugar intake. The new targets: shoot for about 100 calories (6 ½ teaspoons or 25 grams) a day of added sugars if you are a woman and 150 calories (9 ½ teaspoons or 38 grams) a day if you are a man. That's not much! Consider a single 12 ounce regular soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Soft drinks and sweetened beverages are the number-one source of added sugars in Americans' diets.
The main problem with using too much sugar and other sweeteners is that they provide little more than calories often replacing more nutritious foods that contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that fight disease. Extra calories contribute to obesity raising risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases. It is important to remember that a calorie of sugar is a calorie of sugar whether it is from white sugar or some type of natural sweetener (honey, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar). You are still adding empty calories to your diet. Once again the best advice is moderation and gradually trying to reduce the amount of added sugars. Since most people could benefit from reducing the amount of added sugars in their diet, here are some tips to help you make your sugar intake as healthy as possible.
- Drink fewer sweetened drinks. You can make a significant reduction in added sugar by eliminating regular sodas, sweetened tea, sports drinks, etc. Choose water more often!
- If you add sugar to your coffee or tea, gradually decrease the amount by weaning yourself down by a teaspoon or packet at a time. Eventually you will get used to it and may even enjoy the more subtle flavors of the beverage. Many herb teas contain spices that help it taste sweet without any sugar added!
- Fruit can help satisfy a sweet tooth. If selecting canned fruit look for it in water or juice without added sugar. Whole fruit is more satisfying than fruit juice. If choosing juice look for 100% juice with no added sugar and limit to one cup a day.
- Use less sugar in the recommended amounts in recipes. You can usually reduce the sugar by 1/3 to ½. Start reducing slowly and experiment. One time I was doubling a muffin recipe and forgot to double the sugar and it turned out fine so I realized I could reduce the sugar next time.
- Choose whole-grain cereal instead of ones coated in sugar or honey. You could also try mixing a low-sugar cereal with a sweeter one. Sprinkle the sweeter one on top only.
- Limit all added sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, cane or beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, and honey. Many of these have been promoted as more "natural" sugars but they still contribute calories and need to be used in moderation.
- Don't worry about the naturally occurring sugar in fruit and milk. Milk contains naturally occurring sugars called lactose and fruit contains naturally occurring sugars called fructose. These foods are rich in nutrients necessary to promote health.
- If a food contains little or no milk or fruit, the "sugars" number on the package's Nutrition Facts label will tell you how much added sugars are in each serving. A teaspoon of sugar has about 4 grams of sugar and about 16 calories. So if the Nutrition Facts on a 20oz bottle of flavored juice drink reports 72 grams of sugar that is the equivalent of 18 teaspoons of sugar!
- Of course a simple way to limit added sugars is portion control. A small muffin eaten slowly savoring each bite contributes much less added sugars and calories than an oversized muffin. Choose small portions of sweets enjoying each bite.
I have included a muffin recipe that the sugar has been cut by 1/3 from the original recipe and whole wheat flour used for white. Splenda or a sugar substitute equivalent could also be used in place of brown sugar if you prefer. Store the baked muffins in the freezer in a Ziploc bag. When you need something to satisfy your sweet tooth for a snack or dessert you can microwave them for few seconds and enjoy!
Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
1 cup quick oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup skim milk or 1% milk
¼ cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
Combine first 5 ingredients (dry) in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine rest of ingredients (wet) with a whisk. Add blueberry mixture to flour mixture, stirring until moist. Spoon batter into 16 muffin cups coated with cooking spray or use muffin papers. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool muffins in pans 5 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack. Yields: 16 muffins
Nutrition Facts per muffin: 120 calories, 4g fat, .5g saturated fat, 85mg sodium, 23g total carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 10g sugar (some "natural" from milk and berries), 3 g protein.
Consider that a Blueberry Muffin from Dunkin Donuts is listed as having 510 calories, 16g fat, and 51g sugar!