The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines have arrived, and while many readers will not study them carefully, there is an important point to bring to your attention: for the first time, they are telling Americans to limit their intake of sugar to 10 percent (or less) of daily calories.
The sugar guidelines are for limiting “added” sugars, not those found naturally in foods. Natural sugars include those in fruits, vegetables and milk, while added sugars include the various forms that appear in processed food and drinks: glucose, fructose, dextrose, corn syrup and malt syrup, just to name a few. These are interchangeable referred to as added, refined and processed sugars.
There are years of data indicating that too much sugar increases risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and leptin resistance, the hormone that regulates body weight. It raises triglyceride, blood pressure and blood sugar levels; it also increases waists and weight, further increasing risk for chronic diseases.
How much sugar?
Food labels use 2,000 calories as a typical daily intake. At 10 percent of calories, that means 200 calories, 50 grams or 10 teaspoons of added sugar daily. The 2,000 calories are just an average goal; women often need fewer calories, and a suggested reference for women is 1,800 calories. Ten percent would be 180 calories, 45 grams or 9 teaspoons of added sugar. Of course, your caloric needs will also vary depending on age and physical activity level.
Where is the sugar?
Sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the biggest sources of added sugar. One 12-ounce can of cola provides more than 30 grams, while fruit drinks, coffee drinks and energy drinks contain similar amounts. Coffee creamers and hot chocolate mixes serve up 5-8 grams per tablespoon (and who uses 1 tablespoon?). Another significant source of added sugar is breakfast food, including cereal, cereal bars, sweetened instant oatmeal, pastries, toaster pastries and even some breads. All this before noon!
What if you avoid this sugar fest and eat healthfully?
One client reported this: yogurt with blueberries for breakfast (29 grams sugar), spinach salad with low-fat dressing for lunch (20 grams sugar), apple with peanut butter for a snack (5 grams sugar), sports bar after workout (10 grams sugar) and spaghetti squash with tomato sauce for dinner (6 grams sugar). Well, the 70 grams (17.5 teaspoons) of added sugar she got was better than average but still had room for improvement.
As indicated, common sources of added sugar include sweetened yogurt, condiments, reduced-fat desserts and salad dressing and sauces.
I have had clients who feel the government should stay out of their meals, and do not feel the guidelines are important. But with the average intake of added sugar in this country topping 22 teaspoons daily, or 130 pounds per year, it’s time to start listening. Forget the math. Just eat smarter – water instead of sweetened beverages, oats instead of sweetened cereal, whole foods instead of boxed mixes and spices in place of sauces. Eating from the earth never tasted so sweet.
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.