Guidelines on sugar consumption for American adults have for some years put the upper limit of sugar consumption at 10% of calories. So, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should cap sugar at 200 calories’ worth, or about 12 spoonsful a day. Until the new sugar guidance came along.
New guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee drop that percentage to 6% of calories. That’s 120 calories, 7.5 spoonfuls, or 30 grams.
That may sound like a fairly small change. In fact, 67% of Americans eat more than 10% sugar already. The average American eats 13% of their daily calories in the form of sugar — about 77 grams. So the new guidelines ask us to cut our sugar intake in half. And then reduce it just a little bit more.
Eating less sugar is intended to help us solve the problem of obesity. Obesity increases the chances of getting lots of other diseases, from diabetes to COVID-19 to certain types of cancers. Eating lots of sugar, even if you’re not overweight, is also implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
How much is that in grams?
Nutrition labels don’t tell you how many teaspoonfuls of sugar a food contains, nor how many calories’ worth of sugar. Labels share that information in grams.
The old goal was 50 grams of sugar. The new rules limit us to 30 grams.
One can of soda can contain 39 grams of sugar.
But let’s say that you don’t drink soda. You start your day with Raisin Bran (18 grams of sugar) plus coffee with a spoonful of sugar (12 grams) and flavored creamer (5 grams).
Lunch is a ham and cheese sandwich (7 grams) and a salad with dressing (3 grams). You grab a sweet tea (38 grams) to go with it, and limit yourself to one cookie (10 grams).
Mid-afternoon you grab a handful of gummy bears (18 grams) as a pick-me-up, and resist any other snacking.
When dinner time rolls around, you’re hungry, so you enjoy spaghetti and meat balls (11 grams of sugar) with a slice of garlic bread (3 grams) and Southern style green beans (6 grams).
Looking back on your day you feel like you ate pretty healthy, so you have one scoop of ice cream (14 grams).
That’s 145 grams of sugar.
In fact, each meal of that hypothetical day contained at least 30 grams of sugar. It’s very easy to rack that up, even when you think you’re making healthy choices.
How to reduce sugar intake
Start with soda. Cut out soda, and you may cut your sugar intake by half with no other efforts. The same can be said for fancy coffee drinks. Those seasonal treats and Venti caramel macchiatos can pack 50 grams of sugar or more.
Next, tackle hidden sugars. If your green bean recipe features half a cup of sugar, you’re not hiding that sugar very well. Often, however, those hidden sugars lurk in packaged goods like jarred spaghetti sauce or BBQ sauce, salad dressings, and cereals. Try choosing a brand with less sugar than your regular brand and working your way down to less-sweet alternatives.
Give your tastes time to change. If you sweeten your coffee or tea, try to cut back a little at a time. If you normally put a tablespoonful of sugar in your coffee, cut back to two teaspoonfuls till you can enjoy that. Then move down to one teaspoon, then a half teaspoon, and so on.
You can do this with anything you add sugar to. Your tastes will get accustomed to a lower level of sweetness. You’ll come to enjoy the flavors of fruits and vegetables without added sugar.
Cut back on processed foods. Most processed foods include added sugar, while unprocessed foods don’t. Replace sugary breakfast cereals with plain oatmeal and fresh fruit. Choose simple proteins like baked or grilled fish and chicken, alongside fresh vegetables cooked without sweeteners.
When you’ve cut out sugary drinks and hidden sugars in processed foods, what’s left? Sweets.
A sweet tooth — it’s a real thing
There is evidence that some people have a genetic inclination to like sweets. If you think you have a sweet tooth, maybe you do.
Cut out hidden sweets and sugary drinks, and you may have enough sugar grams left in your budget to enjoy a dessert. With no other added sugars, 30 grams a day won’t cover a Coke or a Venti caramel macchiato, but it will allow you a scoop of ice cream or a slice of cake.
Try smaller servings of your favorite treats. Chances are, you’ll be just as satisfied with a golfball-sized serving as with a baseball-sized serving.
For some of us, abstaining is easier than cutting back. If you can’t enjoy a small dessert or an occasional treat, quit bringing sweets into your home. If you don’t have sweets on hand, it will be easier to avoid eating sugar. Over time, you will stop missing them.