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Nutrition

How to Steer Clear of Added Sugars

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They’re in more places than you think.

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Few things beat the simple pleasure of an ice cream cone on a hot summer day or a piece of warm apple pie when it's cold. A sugary treat can be bliss, but the unfortunate truth is that it's best enjoyed only occasionally, and in small quantities. Added sugars—the sugars that are added to foods and drinks during preparation—provide low nutritional value, but they do have calories (specifically, 4 calories per gram).  

In the United States, the average man eats 21 teaspoons of added sugars a day, while the average woman has 15 teaspoons. Meanwhile, the recommended daily limits for added sugars are 6 teaspoons for women, and 9 teaspoons for men. In other words, on average, Americans are consuming more than twice the daily recommended amounts of added sugars every day.  

Here's why that's a problem: Too much sugar can lead to diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, obesity, and cholesterol problems, among other health issues. (Anybody got a wide-open eyes emoji?) In other words, it's in the best interest of your health to keep added sugars out of your diet.  

To limit your added sugar intake, you may already know what to avoid: desserts, sugary breakfast cereals, and soft drinks. That's a good place to start. But sugars are sneaky, and tend to creep into a lot of foods, even otherwise healthy-seeming ones, like your favorite loaf of whole-grain bread. You can get smarter about your added sugar intake by doing the following:  

Check the Label 

Added sugars come by many different names, so it's good to scan nutritional labels for ingredients that include the word sugar, of course, but also for words such as syrup, honey, nectar, juice, molasses, and words that end in "ose," like dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and fructose. You can often find these ingredients in things you might consider good for you, like bread (even whole-grain!),granola or energy bars, flavored oatmeal, sports drinks, fruity yogurts, and coffee drinks.  
 

Choose Whole Over Processed 

In general, it's a good practice to get lots of one-ingredient foods in your diet. Think: grabbing an apple or baby carrots instead of that sugary granola bar. Naturally occurring sugars are not considered the same as added sugars, and fruit and veggies bring fiber to the table, too. Plus, there are a lot of ways to make your own versions of processed items that taste even better; think a homemade citrus vinaigrette instead of buying a bottle of salad dressing, or cutting up fresh fruit and adding it to a container of plain Greek yogurt. 

Wash Off the Sugars 

Similar to the idea of blotting grease off the top of a pizza, you can reduce the amount of sugar you take in by rinsing canned fruit of its syrup before you eat it. Likewise, if you like to bake, consider recipes that rely on natural sugars for a lot of their sweetness (like a whole-grain berry crisp), or cut your favorite cookie recipe in half or quarters, so you end up with about a dozen or so rather than three to four dozen cookies in your house.  

Go for Unsweetened Drinks 

Instead of a sweetened tea, get the unsweetened option. Unsweet teas often come in fruity flavors that can be just as interesting to drink, and without the sugar. The same goes for sodas and other carbonated beverages. You can squeeze a slice of lime or lemon into seltzer to add brightness to fizzywater. If you take sugar in your coffee or tea and don’t think you’ll like the taste without it, cut the sugar you add down a little bit each day over the course of a week or two. Soon enough, your palette will be retrained to enjoy drinks without sugar. 

Get more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.