The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines are broad and more confusing than previous guidelines. They emphasize eating whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts and oils, but don’t give specific amounts. The only specific recommendations are to keep both saturated fats and added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories. For the average American that’s like being sent to the bakery blindfolded and being told to just buy a little bit. The nose can smell the sugar but what does 10% look like? What are other sources of added sugars? Let me shed some light on what this dietary guideline really means.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods and beverages through processing or preparing them. It doesn’t include naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruit and milk but it does include that syrup I just had with my pancakes this morning, the sugar in my French Vanilla yogurt and the sugar in many sauces.
The biggest source of added sugars for Americans is from soda, sports and energy drinks. It’s also found heavily in the specialty coffees from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts – a Venti Caffe Mocha has 44 gms of added sugar. Some not-so-obvious added sugars are found in cereals, sauces and soups, and even ketchup. Keep in mind, this also includes other sweeteners that are popular today like Agave, honey and coconut sugar. So how do you know what 10% of your total daily calories looks like?
Calculating Your 10% Sugar Goal
Using the Mayo Clinic calorie calculator and estimating calories for a 55 year-old woman who is 5′ 6″, weighs 160 pounds and is somewhat physically active 2-3 times a week, her daily calorie recommendation would be around 1850 calories. Ten percent of those calories is 185 calories a day. To convert this into usable information you need to understand that there are 4 calories in a gram of sugar, which is a carbohydrate. Dividing 185 by 4 amounts to 46 grams of sugar a day. So how does that add up?
Sugars Quickly Add Up
It’s all about choosing wisely by knowing where the hidden sugars are, while also moderating portions. A 20 ounce serving of coke has 65 gms of sugar – there goes a day’s and a half from the sugar allowance. Four pieces of a Godiva Milk Chocolate bar yields 21 grams. My coconut custard pie calls for 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Divided over 8 pieces that is still 38 grams of sugar – at least that’s within the guidelines for me. It’s a little harder to determine how much added sugar is in some foods that also contain carbohydrates. For example, Cabot’s Low-Fat French Vanilla contains 28 grams of carbohydrates, but not all of that is from sugar. Greek yogurt naturally has some sugar, in the form of lactose. If I compare the amount of carbohydrates in 8 oz of the French Vanilla to the plain yogurt, there is a 24 gm difference. That difference is from the sugar added to the Cabot’s French Vanilla yogurt. Youser! No wonders it tastes so good! That’s why I mix the two, half and half.
My motto is “dilute the bad, and enhance the good.”
Other Hidden Sugars
Sugar is in so many processed foods. It goes by many different names and includes:
fructose, corn syrup, invert sugar, dextrose, fruit syrup concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, malt syrup, agave, honey, and corn sweetener.
Start looking under the list of ingredients to see if it contains any of these ingredients. You can’t always determine the exact amount of total carbohydrates that are coming from sugar, but you can try to find substitutes that don’t have any sugar. There are some foods that shouldn’t have a sweet component like crackers, tomato sauces and breads. You can find alternatives with all of these that do not contain any sugar – just check the list of ingredients.
Weaning Off Sugar
Ahhh, I love my sweets too, I understand. By finding alternatives, delaying my sweets to after dinner and cutting back on portions, I’ve found what works for me. Here are some other helpful suggestions:
- Save your sweets for the end of the day, being mindful of portion and enjoyment. It can take 2 minutes to devour a treat or it can be savored mindfully letting each bite dissolve in your mouth over 15 minutes.
- Instead of sodas, try seltzer water. I bought a Soda Stream and flavor it with a natural, calorie free flavoring.
- Stop the energy, coconut waters and sports drinks. Your body doesn’t need the added sugar in those. Water is better and if you really need a little flavoring then add fresh lemon or lime.
- Eat dark chocolate (in small amounts) instead of milk chocolate. It has far less sugar and delivers more of the heart healthy flavonoids than milk chocolate. Eat it mindfully,letting each bite dissolve in your mouth.
- Move away from artificial sweeteners and sugar-free sodas if possible. They just raise your mouth’s sweet thermostat, setting higher sweet expectations.
- Check the list of ingredients on your food labels. You would be surprised how much sugar is added to most foods. Most of the time there are alternatives without added sugars.
- Move away from fruit juices unless they are made from 100% juice. Instead eat fruit which will give you the fiber as well. If you really want juice then try low sodium V8.
- Make more of your desserts with fruit. My Blueberry-Rhubarb crisp is delicious but you can substitute with any fruit. Even frozen mango makes a delicious crisp! Fruit crisps have less fat and carbs than a pie and are a delicious way to get some whole grains while controlling the sugar.
- Cut sugar in recipes by a third. You won’t notice it. I made my last coconut custard pie by reducing it to one cup and added some extra vanilla extract a touch of nutmeg to enhance other flavors.
- Choose cold cereals with no added sugar (like Shredded Wheat) or move to whole grain hot cereals like teff or steel-cut oats topped with berries and plain Greek yogurt (or you can do my half and half trick).
- Make some of your desserts fresh fruit. There’s nothing better than a juicy peach or cup of fresh picked berries. Fruit should be elevated to dessert status and not just a box to be checked off.
Most people consider sugar to be a “pick-me-up”, but in reality eating too much just makes us tired afterwards as blood sugars come plummeting down from the surge in insulin. A big dose of ice cream or candy may give an initial sugar high, but it’s almost always followed by sluggishness and guilt. Eating too much sugar also raises artery-clogging triglycerides, leads to weight gain and puts added stress on the pancreas. But I think the best reason to reduce dietary sugar, is the boost in energy you will notice throughout the day as blood sugar levels stay more even-keeled. Now that’s my kind of payback!