From the sweetener you stir into your morning coffee to the after-dinner dessert you can't resist, the amount of sugar you consume between breakfast and bedtime adds up quickly.
Americans down more than 22 teaspoons a day, according to the USDA, which is more than double what experts recommend. (According to Statistics Canada, Canadians consumed 26 teaspoons of sugar daily, based on 2004 stats.) At the same time, research links diets high in added sugar to increased risk for diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. So what's the best way to slash sugar without sending your relentless sweet tooth into shock?
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now! suggests the following strategies to cut sugar without feeling deprived.
Commit to a sugar quota
The first step to reducing your sugar intake: figure out exactly how much of the sweet stuff you're shovelling in. Find the grams of sugar on a nutrition label and divide that number by four. That's how many teaspoons of sugar a food or drink contains. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit themselves to no more than six teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar per day and men no more than nine teaspoons or 36 grams.
Know what counts as sugar
Natural sweeteners, such as evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, honey and fruit juice concentrates, might have healthy advantages over refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but that doesn't mean they should be left out of your sugar budget. Also, don't be fooled by words like "organic" or "raw" in front of a sweetener's name-it's still sugar. Instead of getting distracted by food label lingo, zero in on the sugar grams listed in the nutrition facts panel-that's what matters, explains Teitelbaum.
Don't drink your fruit ...
Sweetened fruit juices are one of the biggest sources of added sugar in our diets. Some varieties contain more than a teaspoon of sugar per ounce along with little real fruit.
... or eat it dried or canned
"Always choose whole fruit instead of canned fruit or sweetened dried fruit," advises dietitian Angela Ginn, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Just a third-cup of dried pineapple packs 30 grams of sugar-more than seven spoonfuls-but an entire cup of raw pineapple chunks delivers only 82 calories and 16 grams sugar.
Look for pop alternatives
Like fruit juice, soft drinks do serious damage in the sugar department. Teitelbaum suggests switching to coconut water, which contains a fraction of the sweet stuff (a 14-oz bottle of Zico Natural has 60 calories and 12 grams of sugar) plus at least 500 mg of potassium per serving. But don't simply substitute your favourite soft drinks for their diet counterparts. People who consume just three diet sodas per week are 40 per cent more likely to be obese, according to a University of Texas study.
Savour every bite of chocolate
When candy cravings crop up, think quality over quantity. He suggests picking dark chocolate over milk chocolate or opting for a sugar-free variety.
Swap sugar for spices
When a recipe calls for a huge heaping of sugar, scale back and substitute it with fuller-flavour ingredients. "Beet, sweet potato, or parsnip purée can add sweetness and moisture to baked goods while lowering sugar content," says Ginn. "Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice can also make a recipe sweeter." Researchers at the University of Georgia found that eating a teaspoon or two of cinnamon each day helps lower blood sugar levels.
Eat a high-protein breakfast
We expect kids' cereal to be super sweet, but boxed breakfasts geared toward adults can be just as bad. Starting your day with a bowl of refined carbs and added sugar will send your blood sugar soaring, says Teitelbaum, who recommends staring the day with blood sugar-stabilizing protein such as eggs.
Give savoury foods a second look
There's plenty of the sweet stuff hiding in the savoury-tasting condiments you use to top your foods. For every tablespoon of ketchup you squeeze out you'll add 4 grams (or 1 teaspoon) of sugar to your food.
Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep
It's easy to turn to sweets for an energy boost. While sugar may provide a temporary fix, you'll crash again in a couple of hours and crave even more of it, says Teitelbaum. Skimping on shut-eye lowers levels of the fullness hormone leptin while increasing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, a combination that revs up your appetite (especially for sugary foods), according to researchers at Stanford University.
Exercise for energy
Instead of reaching for a sugary snack when an afternoon slump hits, add a short burst of physical activity. When participants in a University of Exeter study took a brisk 15-minute walk, they consumed half as much chocolate as desk dwellers who didn't take an exercise break.
What's more, regular walks make your cells more receptive to insulin, which leads to better blood sugar control, according to research from the CDC.