Plain and simple: Most Americans are consuming too much added sugar.

The American Heart Association makes a strong recommendation for individuals to drastically decrease their consumption of added sugar in an effort to slow the obesity and heart disease epidemics.

AHA recommends that women limit sugar intake to no more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day. For men, it’s 150 calories (36 grams, or 9 teaspoons). On average, Americans consume approximately 22 teaspoons per day which equates to an extra 350 calories.

Reading Nutrition Labels

In the past, it was difficult to read nutrition labels to learn how much added sugar was in processed foods.

By July 2021, manufacturers of processed foods are required to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s new Nutrition Facts label to include an “added sugars” section. This will make it easier for Americans to make informed decisions when it comes to the food that they eat.

The FDA defines “added sugars” as any sugars that are added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such (e.g., a bag of table sugar). Keep your eyes open for the new nutrition labels. They may already be on a majority of processed foods in the supermarkets.

Putting it in Perspective

To put added sugars and daily limits in perspective, consider this: a 20 oz. bottle of coke contains 65 grams of added sugar. That’s more than double the daily limit suggestion for women. Considering that 1 in 3, or approximately 100 million Americans are obese, there’s certainly a cause for concern. 

Sugar does not provide any nutrients – no vitamins, no minerals, simply extra calories.

So how do we cut back on our consumption of added sugars?

It starts with understanding how to read a nutrition label and what to look for when a label doesn’t necessarily say “sugar” in the ingredient list. There are approximately 56 different alternative names for added sugars. Some ingredients are obviously sugar – brown sugar, cane sugar and confectioner’s sugar, to name a few. There are some sneaky names that manufacturers use. Brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, carob syrup and dextrin, for example. A full list can be found with a quick Internet search. 

Here’s a tip! Print out the full list of sneaky names for sugar and keep it with you in your wallet or purse. That way, when you’re out grocery shopping, you can refer to the list and make informed decisions about what you’re buying and keep added sugars to a minimum.

Abbi Bailey is an Employee Wellness Health Coach at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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