Keep it sweet, but lose some sugar

October 08, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

The problem is that Americans are eating, and drinking, too many spoonfuls of sugar for good health. Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys, Americans average 20.5 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That's 68.5 pounds per year. Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods in processing or preparation. This does not include the naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruit or milk.

In some age groups, sugar intake is even higher. American teens (11 to 17 years old) consume a daily average of 15 teaspoons of sugar from soft drinks alone. This means 10 percent of teen calories come from carbonated beverages, or fruit-flavored, part-juice drinks and sports drinks. These empty calories lack the bodybuilding nutrients, like the protein and calcium found in milk. Health experts also believe that soft drink calories are a major contributor to child and teen obesity, as well as expensive dental problems.


Non-diet soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the United States. A single can of regular soda pop may contain roughly 150 sugar calories. The 40 grams of sugar in 12 ounces of soda are equal to about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Consumers are often shocked when they realize that drinking a 32-ounce pop is basically the same as eating a 1/2 cup of table sugar.

Sugary foods and beverages become a health problem when they replace other, more nutrient-dense choices. When it comes to soft drinks, moderation means a can or less per day. Some ideas to help you choose moderate amounts of sugar include:

  • For liquid refreshment, choose water or milk. A single can of regular pop contains 150 calories - all from sugar. Water is free of calories, sugar and fat. Fat-free or low-fat milk offers protein, calcium and magnesium for minimal calories.

  • For a bubbly drink, choose club soda with juice, or try mixing club soda (or sparkling water) with 100-percent fruit juice - and a squeeze of lemon or lime. You'll get the phytonutrients from juice and less sugar than from a soft drink.

  • For a soft drink, choose small or regular. Healthy people can enjoy moderate amounts of sugar and soft drinks - the key is to control the portion size. A super-sized soft drink can have as many calories as a whole meal - 550 calories in a 44-ounce drink.

  • For a sensible (sweet) snack, choose fruit. Satisfying your sweet tooth - and meeting your nutrients needs - is as easy as a piece of fruit. Fresh, dried, frozen or canned, fruit is packed with natural sweetness and the phytonutrients you need for good health.

  • For a sensible, satisfying dessert, choose to share. When you are tempted with an array of rich, sugary desserts the solution is simple (and less expensive). Ask for several forks and share a dessert with family and friends. Or take half home to enjoy later.

  • For a sensible treat, choose a small portion. Typical dessert portions can leave you stuffed and uncomfortable, especially after a big meal. Try starting out with a smaller portion. Eat half or a third of your usual serving - slowly savoring every bite.

  • For homemade treats, choose to reduce sugar. You can cut back on the sugar without sacrificing flavor. In many recipes, you can reduce the sugar by 1/4 to 1/3 without affecting the texture or the taste of the food product.

  • For sensible candy indulgence, choose a miniature chocolate bar. They aren't just for Halloween. They're available year-round, in a variety of flavors. Enjoy your favorite candy bar - for a tiny fraction of the sugar, fat and calories in a king-size bar.

  • For a lower sugar intake, choose foods and beverages, which are made with artificial sweeteners and can help you reduce your overall sugar intake. Remember that sugar-free does not necessarily mean calorie-free - or packed with nutrition.

  • For good dental health, brush your teeth often. Brush at least twice a day - with fluoride toothpaste. Brush as soon as possible after eating foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, especially sticky, gummy foods like caramel candies or raisins. Floss regularly.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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