Are You Eating Too Much Sugar? 9 Tips for How to Cut Back – Meal Replacement Shakes Are You Eating Too Much Sugar? 9 Tips for How to Cut Back – Meal Replacement Shakes

Did you know that the average American consumes over 77 grams of sugar each day? That’s over 60 pounds of sugar going into your body every year! (1

Some of that sugar is naturally occurring, which means that it comes from foods like your apple or milk. But a lot of that sugar gets added into your food or drinks. Even foods you might not expect like ketchup, sauces, soups, or bread! (2)

All this added sugar is a problem because you end up eating way more sugar than you need throughout the day. And while a little bit of sugar isn’t a big deal, a diet high in sugar can lead to some pretty serious health concerns (not to mention, making your healthy weight loss goals that much harder to reach!). 

But how much sugar is too much sugar? And how can you reduce your intake to enjoy a healthier diet? Let’s dive in!

How Much Sugar Should You Have Each Day?

According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sugar should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. This means that if you eat 2,000 calories a day, less than 200 of those calories should come from sugar. (3,4

But how do you know how many sugar calories are in your food or drink? Well, there are four calories in one gram. If a product has 20 grams of sugar per serving that’s 80 calories of sugar. So if you’re eating around 2,000 calories a day, that’s 40% of your recommended daily sugar intake in just one serving of food. That’s a lot of sugar! (2)

So many Americans consume more sugar than they need because it’s harder than it might appear to avoid high-sugar foods, especially when so many products have extra sugar added in. 

Bowl with refined sugar cubes on color wooden background, top view

Added vs. Naturally Occurring Sugar

As the name suggests, naturally occurring sugar occurs naturally in foods like the fructose and glucose in your fruit or the lactose in your milk. Whereas added sugar is sugar added at some point during preparation or processing. This includes the sugar you add to your coffee or tea or the sugar you find in your soda, yogurt, cereal, or baked goods. (2)

Sugar goes by many names. Here are some you might find on the back ingredient label of some foods: (2,5)

  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Dextrose
  • Lactose
  • Sucrose
  • Maltose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Corn sweetener
  • Molasses
  • Cane sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Nectar
  • Raw sugar
  • Syrup
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrate 

There’s no difference between added and naturally occurring sugars. The difference is the quality of the food and the quantity of sugar. Naturally occurring sugars tend to occur in smaller portions and are often accompanied by nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or fiber (like this delicious watermelon for example!).

watermelon popsicle on vintage old wood teak blue

Added sugars, on the other hand, serve no purpose other than to flavor or preserve your food. And they’re often added on top of already naturally occurring sugars, turning a dish or food item (like yogurt!) into an unhealthy dessert. (5)

Simple vs. Complex Sugar Calories

But believe it or not, sugar is not always the bad guy! All carbohydrates consist of building blocks of simple sugars, including glucose, fructose, and galactose. 

Some of those building blocks are more complex, or what is called “complex carbs”. These foods, such as whole grains, legumes, and lentils, take longer to digest. Other carbohydrates have more of a simple structure and are easier to digest, such as fruit, dairy, desserts, or sodas. No matter whether the carb is simple or complex, all carbohydrates break down into glucose. And your body needs that glucose for energy. (6)

So if glucose gives you energy, wouldn’t a sugary soda or piece of cake be the perfect way to boost your energy? Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.

junk food, sweets and unhealthy eating concept - close up of chocolate pieces, jelly beans, glazed donuts and cake on wooden table

When you eat that piece of cake or drink that sugary soda your blood sugar levels rise. Then your insulin production goes into hyperdrive to manage all this new sugar. Because it takes very little time for your body to digest this food, you might experience a burst of energy before your blood sugar goes back to normal and you experience that all-too-familiar sugar crash. 

An apple or a dairy product, on the other hand, might also be a simple carb but they contain healthy nutrients like fiber, protein, or calcium that support your body’s healthy digestion and function. That sugary drink or piece of cake offers nothing but sugar! (5)

The more complex carbs take longer to break down in the body, meaning they can give you energy for longer. When you eat too much sugar your body cannot keep up and this is what leads to problematic health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. (5)

While there’s way more science to it than that, the big takeaway is that your body doesn’t need a whole lot of sugar. The glucose your body needs comes from healthier foods that offer greater nutritional value, not the ones with all that added sugar. 

Why Is Added Sugar Bad for You?

When you do consume a whole lot of sugar, this can result in a whole lot of health problems. Here’s why all that added sugar adds up:

  • Zero nutritional value: High added sugar foods are often high in calories but low in nutritional value. This means you end up eating more calories than you need because you’re not full or satisfied after eating these foods. (7)
  • Increase in insulin: High levels of insulin production from high-sugar foods cause your body to store more food as fat. This can lead to weight gain and other health problems. (8)
  • Disrupted hormones: Increased insulin levels also impact the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you’re full and to stop eating. Eating too much sugar can cause leptin resistance, causing your brain to not know when to stop eating. (8)
  • Cardiovascular health risk: The higher your intake of sugar, the higher your risk of serious health problems like cardiovascular disease. According to some studies, a diet with 15% daily calories from sugar could increase your cardiovascular risk by 18%. (9)
  • Heart health: Too much added sugar raises your blood pressure and heightens inflammation, which are both risk factors for heart disease. (5)
  • Sugar cravings: Some scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse found that sugar creates similar dependency and withdrawal symptoms to drugs like cocaine or alcohol. This means that the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave. And while cutting out sugar might be tough at first, eventually you’ll start needing it less and less. (8)

How to Reduce Your Sugar Intake

So how do you reduce your sugar intake and eat healthier? Here are some ways to help cut back on added sugar:

Start a Food Diary

The honey you add to your tea, the sugar you pour into your coffee, and the maple syrup you put on your pancakes all add up. If you’re looking to limit your sugar intake, start by making note of the foods you eat today and how much sugar you’re currently consuming. It might help open your eyes to where you need to cut out or cut back. 

Avoid Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

The largest source of sugar in the American diet comes from sugar-sweetened beverages, which account for more than 24% of all added sugars. (One 12-ounce can of soda has over 30-40 grams or over 140 calories of sugar!) 

This means that you can drastically reduce your sugar intake by replacing your high-sugar soda, fruit juice, energy drink, or sports drink with water or another low-sugar alternative instead (like one of our low-sugar top-rated shakes!). (2,3)

hand holding soda can pouring a crazy amount of sugar in metaphor of sugar content of a refresh drink isolated on blue background in healthy nutrition, diet and sweet addiction concept

Limit Your Desserts

Just behind sugar-sweetened drinks are the sugar culprit you might expect: desserts and sweet treats. While these are great to enjoy every once in a while, they shouldn’t be part of your everyday routine. Think of these items as special extras to your diet once you’ve consumed the protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats that your body needs. (2,3)

Downsize Your Sugar

And if you can’t say no to your sweet tooth, there’s no need to go cold turkey on sugar! Aim for smaller portion sizes, like one cookie versus five, one scoop of sugar in your coffee instead of two, or a smaller can of soda versus a large one. And swap in healthier alternatives when you can, like a bowl of fruit or a zero-sugar sweetener

Check the Nutrition Label

All food and drink products today should have both a “total sugar” and “added sugar” label on the back. The “added sugar” label is a great way to quickly check how much sugar is added to your food versus occurring naturally. 

Some high-sugar foods to look out for include yogurt, salad dressings, condiments (like ketchup), bread, sauces, soups, pre-packaged foods, cereals, granola, nutrition bars, and all drinks. (5,10,11)

Look at the Serving Size

And as you’re taking a look at that back label make sure you’re also paying attention to serving size! It might look low in sugar according to the back label. But if you plan on enjoying three servings, that’s going to triple your sugar intake. (5)

Enjoy Homemade vs. Store-Bought

Pre-packaged foods or drinks such as smoothies or fruit juices have a ton of added sugars. This is because they need added sugars to help maintain their flavor for long periods sitting on a shelf. 

But when you make a sandwich, smoothie, or freshly squeezed glass of fruit juice at home, you can cut out all that added sugar. Leaving you with a deliciously healthy (and lower-sugar) option!

three smoothies with blueberries, peach, spinach and strawberries.

Watch Out for Misleading Labels

You’ll find all sorts of labels on food products from “reduced sugar” to “low sugar” to “lightly sweetened”. But the only one you should 100% trust is the nutrition label on the back. Even something that’s “lightly sweetened” might still have an unhealthy amount of sugar in it. (10)

Swap in Healthy Meal Replacement Shakes

It’s hard to avoid sugar and get all the nutrients you need throughout your day. Especially when you’re running from one thing to the next on a busy schedule! 

That’s where healthy meal replacement shakes come in as another tool in your toolbox for a balanced, well-rounded diet. Instead of snacking on high-sugar foods, you can load up on vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber in one easy-to-go shake. 

Check out our top-rated shakes for full reviews of some of the best meal replacement shake options out there. And make sure to head to our blog for even more tips & suggestions on healthy eating! 

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much 
  2. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars
  3. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/sugar.html
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-fructose-bad-for-you-201104262425
  7. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
  8. https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YJW39OjYq3B
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822166/
  10. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/difference-between-sugar-free-and-no-added-sugar
  11. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/cut-out-added-sugars-infographic

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