How much sugar should you eat? The American Heart Association recommends most women should get no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories or 25 grams) a day from added sugars and most men should get no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories or 38 grams). Yet the average person consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to ~350 extra calories.

Reading labels and learning how the teaspoons of sugar can add up can have a profound impact on cutting sugar out of your diet leading to a healthier you! With this challenge, you can become skilled at knowing which foods you typically eat that are loaded with sugar, reading labels and getting to know sugar by its many names, and calculating the teaspoons of sugar in many foods. However, you won’t need to count teaspoons forever.  Just try for these 21 days so you can identify how much added sugar is in the food and beverages you typically eat, and make informed choices when you want and don’t want to eat added sugar.

A healthy diet without added sugar

The major sources of added sugars in our diets are regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks (fruitades and fruit punch); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles). Here are some tips to cut out the sugar and just focus on eating a healthy diet:

  • Start making informed choices by reading labels of the typical food and beverages you consume.
  • Make water your beverage of choice. Reduce or eliminate any added sweetener you add to coffee or tea. Enjoy herbal teas or water with slices of citrus fruits. No sweetened coffee drinks, no energy or sports drinks, and check the fruit juice at the door.  Eat whole, real fruit.
  • Eat real foods.  Most ‘low-fat’ versions of foods such as salad dressings, chips, mayonnaise, have had some of the fat replaced with added sugar.  Instead, just enjoy smaller portions of the regular, ‘full-fat’ versions.
  • Start your day with a healthy, savory breakfast such as:
    1. wholegrain toast with a smear of a nut butter or a hard-boiled egg
    2. whole grain, no-sugar cereal with milk (examples – Post or Trader Joe’s Shredded Wheat, Kellogg’s Unfrosted Mini-Wheats, Trader Joe’s Reduced Sugar Triple Nut & Flakes Cereal, Kashi’s Heart to Heart)
    3. oatmeal with walnuts and fresh fruit such as blueberries sprinkled on top
  • Learn to enjoy the whole grain version of breads, rice and pastas.
  • Cut out chocolate, candy, desserts, muffins, etc.
  • Be wary of ‘sugar-free’ foods. These often contain synthetic sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. Although these taste sweet, they don’t help curb a sweet tooth and they tend to send the messages to the brain to expect something sweet, which can lead to over-eating.
  • Reduce sugar in recipes by ¼ to 1/3 without affecting the taste or texture. Add spices to boost flavor.

Label Reading 101: Count your Teaspoons

Raise your awareness of the added sugar in foods you choose every day by reading the labels of prepared foods, as well as products you cook with. Use these tools below to help you make informed choices when you want and don’t want to eat added sugar.

Label Reading 102: Recognize Sugar’s Many Names

A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that list “sugar” in the first three ingredients. Sugar can go by many names though, with as many as 61 names for added sugar on food labels.  Here are some of the more common terms for sugar on labels: sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt, and molasses.

See Health*Matters Resources to learn more about sugar in the food and beverages you consume.