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Sweet Smarts: What You Need to Know About Sugar

Sweet Smarts: What You Need to Know About Sugar

Chocolate, candy, desserts, and ice cream. It seems like sugar is everywhere, especially this time of year. To live healthfully and prevent disease, what do you need to know about sugar, and what should you keep in mind as Halloween approaches?

First off: How much is too much?

When people talk about "added sugar," they're referring to any caloric sweetener that is added to food during processing or cooking or at the table. 

How much added sugar is acceptable?

The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020 recommends that added sugars be limited to less than 10% of your total daily caloric intake. At the same time, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 added teaspoons a day for men and no more than 6 added teaspoons a day for women.

The average American, however, eats about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This excess of sugar can result in poor nutrition, weight gain, and tooth decay. Plus, combined with too many overall calories, it can lead to obesity, which is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease.

With so much at risk, it's important to take steps to reduce your sugar intake whenever possible. 
Here's what you can do

  • Choose natural sugars. When craving something sweet, look for naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables. These are the best choices because they also contain fiber, water, and loads of nutrients. 
  • Read labels closely. As you look for sugars that are natural, keep in mind that some sweeteners are only labeled as "natural." They may look healthy, but they count as added sugars and can be problematic in excess. 
  • Keep an eye on treats and children. In the U.S., added sugar is found most often in sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks and sweets. To be healthy, children and teens should have no more than 8 ounces per week of sugar-sweetened drinks. Also, children under 2 should not have any food or beverages containing added sugars.

A scary sugar day: Keep in mind that all your best efforts to control sugar intake can be challenging come October 31. Here are tips on how to have a healthy Halloween:

  • Keep kids active and focused on fun by emphasizing the non-food-related aspects of the holiday, such as parties, decorations, spooky activities, costume contests, and games. 
  • Serve a healthy meal or snack before trick-or-treating, when sorting through your candy, and any time you want to dig into the leftovers.
  • Let children select a few favorites and then find a resource to donate any extra. Some dentists offer a reward for candy, and there are programs that ship candy to troops overseas.

Nutrition expertise at the YMCA

Casey Spence and Pamela Cook, RDN, are helping members at the Littleton Family YMCA live healthy. The two dietary professionals are here to provide nutrition counseling, lead classes in healthy cooking and meal planning, and share helpful nutrition tips that can improve your overall health. If you're struggling to meet your fitness goals, or you just want to start eating better, learn more about the Y's nutrition programs, and look for regular YMCA emails on Healthy Eating at the Y.