When you hit that 3 p.m. slump during the week, it seems only natural to grab a sugary drink or snack.
The pick me up is exactly what you need to power through the rest of the day. But is it really what your body needs?
Sugar is an essential part of our diet, but it is a small one. For the past 30 years, people in the U.S. have been consuming too much sugar. A 2008 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found Americans were consuming 76.7 grams per day, or about 306 calories.1 While this is lower than the 100 grams consumed in 2000, it is still too high. According to the American Heart Association, men should consume 37.5 grams of sugar or 150 calories per day while women should aim for 25 grams of sugar or about 100 calories per day.2
There are two types of sugar: natural and added sugar. Natural sugars are found in foods such as fruit and milk. Added sugar are additional sugars put into food and drinks while the food or drink is being processed and prepared. Added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, honey as well as chemically manufactured sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup.
Although sugar makes food taste better, it has a negative effect on the body. Excess sugar has been linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes and liver disease. A study in February 2016 by Scientific Reports found that an increase in sugar in the diets of female mice led to liver tumors.3
Reducing the amount of sugar you consume can help improve your weight and your life. It might seem challenging, but there are easy switches you can make in your diet to lower the amount of sugar you are consuming. Here are a few tips to get started.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a very important parts of our diet. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that women get about one and a half to two cups of fruit a day while men need two cups. When it comes to vegetables, men need about three cups a day and women need two and a half.4 Even though fruit has sugar in it, it is natural sugar. Eating more fruits and vegetables is also a better option than simply decreasing high-fat and high-sugar intakes. A study by the Obesity Society in 2012 found that parents that fed their children more fruit and vegetables lost a greater amount of weight than those that lowered high-fat and high sugar.5
Cutting out sugar can sometimes affect how food tastes. But there are some alternatives to adding flavors without the calories. Although there have been a small number of studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners, a 2003 study by World Obesity found that a strong conclusion could not be made on whether artificial sweeteners really reduced body weight and health in the long term.6 Instead try adding natural extracts or natural flavors such as cinnamon. The Journal of Medicinal Food in 2011 found that cinnamon helps naturally regulate blood sugar, which in turn controls appetite.7
Reduce consumption of highly-processed food
Food that has been highly processed has a lot of added sugar in it. Added sugar leads to added calories. BMJ Global Health found that in 2016 that 82 percent of Americans exceeded the recommended limit of energy needed from added sugar.8 Some of the worst offenders are carbonated soda with 133 calories per serving, canned peaches in syrup with 115 calories and milk chocolate with 77 calories from added sugar per serving.2 Eating foods that are only processed or natural can reduce amount of calories from sugar by about 20 percent.
Before you start eating or drinking something, take a minute and take a look at the label. There are multiple things on labels that can help you see how much sugar you really are consuming. Sugar can manifest as more than just sugar on the label. Watch for other words including, corn syrup, malt sugar, molasses, and words ending in “ose” such as lactose, sucrose, glucose, and dextrose. Also look for words such as sugar-free, low sugar and reduced sugar or less sugar. Sugar free means that there is less than .5 grams of sugar per serving. Low sugar is not allowed or defined on food labels. Reduced sugar or less sugar indicated that there is at least 25 percent less sugar compared to the original. 2 Noticing these terms can help you see if there is hidden sugar in the food or drink.
1. Welsh J, Sharma A, Grellinger L, Vos M. Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. Published September 2011. Accessed April 2016.
2. American Heart Association. Sugar 101. Accessed April 2016.
3. Healy ME, Lahiri S, Hargett SR, Chow JD, Byrne FL, Breen DS, Kenwood BM, Taddeo EP, Lackner C, Caldwell SH, Hoehn KL. Dietary sugar intake increases liver tumor incidence in female mice. Published February 2016. Accessed April 2016.
4. United States Department of Agriculture. Choose My Plate. Updated March 2016. Accessed April 2016.
5. Epstein LH, Gordy CC, Raynor HA, Beddome M, Kilanowski CK, Paluch R. Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Decreasing Fat and Sugar Intake in Families at Rick for Childhood Obesity. Published September 2012. Accessed April 2016.
6. Vermunt SHF, Pasman WJ, Schaafsma G, Kardinaal AFM. Effects of sugar intake on body weight: a review. Published April 2003. Accessed April 2016.
7. Davis PA, Yokoyama W. Cinnamon intake lowers fasting blood glucose: meta-analysis. Published April 2011. Accessed April 2016.
8. Martinez Steele E, Baraldi LG, Louzada ML, Moubarac JC, Mozaffarian D, Monteiro CA. Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. Published March 2016. Accessed April 2016.