Americans are consuming too much sugar, according to the American Heart Association. The average American takes in, on average, 22 teaspoons, or 88 grams, of sugar daily, equaling 355 calories. This number has been on the rise for the past 30 years.
This is almost double the amount that dietitians including Sloan Taylor, clinical dietitian with St. Francis Hospital, recommend.
“Refined sugar should make up 10 percent of a person’s daily food intake,” Taylor says. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that equals 50 grams per day.
When people think of sugar, they may first think of candy bars and ice cream, but refined sugars are found in most processed foods. This includes sauces, salad dressings, canned soups, soft drinks and energy drinks. Because the sugar is refined, or concentrated, it contains high calories in small amounts and breaks down quickly in the body.
Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are made up of many sugar molecules. They include grains, rice, fruits and vegetables. They are high in fiber, and their digestion is slow, causing the body to feel full for a longer time.
For example, a can of soda and a bag of mini carrots both contain about 150 calories, says Taylor. Most people would feel full before they finish the bag of carrots, but they could easily reach for a second can of soda, which leads to extra sugar and more calories.
In addition, individuals lose out on valuable nutrients that their bodies need.
“A person can drink a can of pop and a glass of orange juice and consume about the same amount of calories, but the nutrients taken in are completely different,” she says.
For weight loss, Taylor suggests, rather than drinking fruit juices, eating a whole fruit. “You are still getting juice from the fruit, but you are also getting fiber and nutrients that don’t transfer over into the juice.
“When individuals consume too much refined sugar, they miss out on nutrients that they can only get from whole foods.”
Too much sugar can cause lifelong health problems, including tooth decay, weight gain, mental fogginess and risk of diabetes.
Sugar substitutes are one way to curb calories without taking the sweetness with it.
Taylor tells her patients to use Truvia or Splenda. Truvia is a naturally occurring extract from the stevia plant. Splenda is made with sucralose, an artificial sweetener that contains real sugar. “Splenda is man-altered but not man-made,” Taylor says, “whereas, other sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame are totally created in labs.”