Be Sugar Smart

Sugar is my kryptonite as far as food goes.  I have such a sweet tooth, which is difficult, especially being a dietitian! The good news is that there are ways to satisfy that craving without shattering healthy eating habits.

How much sugar can I have?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 gm (or 9 tsp) of ADDED sugar per day for men and 24 gm (or 6 tsp) for women.  What does added sugar mean?  It is just how it sounds: when sugar is added to food.  Fruit does not count as added sugar.  While fruit provides a type of sugar to the diet, it is a natural source (fructose).  Let’s put this in perspective.  One 12 oz can of regular pop has approximately 39 grams of sugar–already exceeding the recommended maximum daily amount for the average man.  A half cup of regular vanilla ice cream has 14 grams of sugar.  These foods are a little more obvious, but what about a food item that is considered “healthy”?  Six ounces of regular vanilla yogurt has 18 grams of sugar!  It is unfortunately very easy to exceed the daily recommended amount of sugar, even while avoiding desserts.

Why avoid excessive sugar?

Simply put, sugar has zero nutritional value.  It doesn’t do anything beneficial for the body (unless you count taste buds as a body part 🙂 ). Since the liver only has so much room to store carbohydrates, any excess carbohydrates (including sugar) are converted into and stored as fat in the body.

How do I know which products to avoid?

First off, check the nutrition facts panel for sugar content in grams.  If you know you are supposed to keep your added sugar intake less than 24 grams in a day, you have your point of reference.  Also check the ingredients list.  There are many different names for sugar: agave syrup, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose), high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar, sugar, syrup.( These all indicate where the sugar is coming from.

Are some forms of sugar better than others?

Yes!  See table below; comparing three different sugar sources (when providing the same amount of sugar grams):

12 gm white sugar 15 gm honey 20 gm chopped dates
Grams of sugar 12 12.5 12.5
Calories 48 46 60
Fiber 0 0 1.5 gm
Vitamins/Minerals 0 Less than 1% daily recommended values 3% daily value for manganese, copper and potassium

This table indicates that when using dates to sweeten a recipe rather honey or white sugar, there is the added benefit of fiber and some vitamins/minerals.  Honey is often viewed as a healthy substitute for sugar in recipes; however, the amount of vitamins/minerals it provides is so insignificant that it hardly makes a difference.

What about sugar substitutes?

There is a lot of different research about sugar substitutes.  Lately, the word is that using a substitute is worse than regular sugar.  Sugar substitutes have their appeal because they are essentially calorie-free and they do not raise blood sugars.  It’s confusing, though, when research is saying that those who use “diet” and “sugar free” products actually end up gaining weight because their sugar cravings are not satisfied with the calorie-free sweeteners.

It all has to come down to the facts we do know: sugar substitutes and sugar alcohols are safe when used in moderation.  There is an acceptable daily amount set by the FDA for each sweetener, and oftentimes, it is very difficult for the average person to exceed.  For example, according to the FDA, a 132 lb person can safely consume up to 23 packets of Splenda per day!  I would not recommend consuming 23 packets of Splenda in one day,  but I do consider these sweeteners as options.

When baking, consider using half white sugar and half sugar substitute.  Just remember that most sugar substitutes are hundreds of times sweeter than white sugar.  Basically, if a recipe requires 1 cup of sugar, use 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup sugar substitute.  This decreases total calories and grams of sugar in the recipe, while still allowing some regular sugar to satisfy the body’s craving.

What about Stevia?

Stevia (or Truvia) has been advertised as a natural sugar substitute.  It is actually considered a “food additive” and not necessarily an artificial sweetener like Equal or Splenda.  It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.  Like other sweeteners, it should only be used in moderation.

How Can I Decrease My Sugar Cravings?

First of all, I would not recommend removing sugar from the diet completely or going “cold turkey.”  It needs to be a gradual change.  See chart below for an example of how to be more “sugar smart”:

yogurt graph



apple pie graph

The most long-lasting and beneficial changes will not happen overnight.  Challenge yourself to find 1 or 2 different common foods in your diet that are high in sugar and try to switch to something that is the next step down.  Do not try to go another step until you are no longer craving the original.  (For example, do not switch from apple pie to baked apples until you are at a point where you do not miss the a la mode version).  I personally started with yogurt.  I went from regular yogurt to plan, fat-free topped with berries (gradually), and now am completely satisfied with the plain, fat-free!

Good Luck 🙂


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