Originally posted here by Lisa Barclay, clinical dietician at Texas Children’s Hospital
Sugar – who doesn’t love this sweet carbohydrate frequently used in food? When discussing sugars, it is important to note a difference between natural and added sugars. Natural sugars include those found in fruits (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). Fruits and dairy provide additional vitamins and minerals, making them a nutritious snack or beverage. Added sugars are those added to beverages, meals or snacks during processing or preparation, and most products with added sugar have limited nutritional value. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states added sugars, on average, account for approximately 270 daily calories, more than 13 percent of total daily calories for the average American. For children, adolescents and young adults, intakes are particularly high.
The leading source of added sugars in the average American diet is beverages, accounting for 47 percent of all added sugars consumed. This category includes regular soft drinks, fruit drinks (not to be confused with 100 percent fruit juice), sweetened coffee and tea, and sports or energy drinks. The next major source is sweets and sweet snack foods, such as desserts, cookies, candy, jams, syrups, etc.
What are some common added sugars to watch out for? High-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, molasses, honey, cane juice or cane sugar, and turbinado are just some of the common sweetening agents available. All of these options provide calories, add sweetness and provide little to no nutritional value. Strategies to shift away from added sugars (and thus, added calories) toward a healthier lifestyle can include the following:
- Consuming water is an excellent way to stay hydrated and is calorie-free. Often, people get tired of water, so sugar-free drink powders are available; however, be advised they can contain non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.
- Limiting juices to no more than 4 oz. per day is a good starting point for those consuming juice regularly. Diluting a juice with water increases the volume without increasing the calories.
- Soft drinks are not nutritious in general, so changing to 4 to 6 oz. of a 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice will provide some sweetness while also providing additional vitamins and minerals.
- Real fruits makes a great snack compared to alternatives, such as fruit snacks or a fruit bar, which may contain multiple forms of added sugar. Try fruit in a plain greek yogurt as a natural sweetener for nutritious, protein packed snack.
- If a child likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try a no-sugar added jelly and/or a natural peanut butter that has reduced sugar. Peanut powder is now available and is a low-sugar source of protein which can be used in baking, smoothies or even mixed into no-sugar added jelly for a sandwich.
- No sugar added applesauce is available and is a low-calorie snack, and pre-packaged fruit cups in 100 percent juice are lower in sugar compared to fruit packaged in syrup or lite syrup.
- Non-nutritive sweeteners can help reduce sugar intake and overall calories in baked products, puddings and breads. Sweeteners such as sucralose (SPLENDA®) or saccharin (Sweet’N Low) have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and have been determined to be safe for consumption.
- SPLENDA® is available in granulated form and can be substituted cup-for-cup when baking. One cup of SPLENDA® Granulated sweetener has 678 fewer calories than one cup of sugar – quite the difference!
- Truvia, a plant based sugar substitute, is an alternative – 3/8 teaspoon of Truvia is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
- Baking desserts with fruits, such as dates, provide natural sweetness while also enhancing a products nutritional value.