Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Sweet Stuff: How to Minimize Your Sugar Intake

Friday, February 14, 2020 10:00 AM

By: Lauren McRae

Valentine's Day is usually coupled with boxes of chocolates, heart-shaped sugar cookies, slices of cake and other sugary items. This V-Day try taking a different approach by passing on the sweets. Consuming foods with added sugar provides empty calories, no nutrients and it’s linked to weight gain and various diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Did you know the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day? Our nation’s sweet tooth likely contributes to the increase in diabetes, childhood obesity and other health problems. The new recommendation states that sugar should be no more than 10% of our daily caloric intake.

Valentine's Day

How much sugar is that? For someone with a 2,000 calorie daily diet, that equates to no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. Sugar is not only found in pop, sweets or baked goods – it is hiding elsewhere.

Stella Moreno-Cortes, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at NorthShore, offers these ways we can cut back on sugar:

  • Read the whole label. Sugar is often added to unexpected foods. For example, sugar is listed in the ingredients of some tomato sauces, crackers, ketchup and dressings. Look at the serving size and the total carbohydrate, in addition to the sugar content when reading labels. Remember that the sugars listed on the label are included in the total carbohydrate amount and this is the number that influences our weight and blood sugar levels the most.
  • Cut the sweets. When reading labels, be on the lookout for other words that sugar can hide behind. Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup (corn sugar), brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup, maple syrup, honey, molasses, invert sugar and sucrose are all added sweeteners that contain calories. Look for naturally unsweetened foods like unsweetened milk, nut butter, yogurt, oatmeal, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep it real. Water and unsweetened sparkling water are great beverage options that are free from carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Cut the carbs that are high in sugar. Do not cut all carbohydrates but only the unnecessary ones. Low-fiber carbohydrates – like candy, juice and slices of bread – can cause our blood sugar to spike quickly. Instead, look for carbohydrates that are high in fiber like whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Watch the drinks. Some of our favorite beverages – pop, sports drinks, fruit juices, sweetened iced tea and many smoothies – are full of sugar. Try brewing unsweetened iced tea or try infusing water with mint leaves, fruit or cucumber.

Moreno-Cortes does not recommend quitting sugar cold turkey, as it is too unrealistic. Start with the recommended swaps: cutting back on sweetened beverages and limiting desserts. These swaps can have a huge impact on improving overall health. Over time, you will find that meeting the new dietary guidelines is easy.

When you were cutting back on sugar, where did you find sugar hiding?