Cutting sugar from your diet? There’s an easy place to start

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Steve Hix/Somos Images/Corbis

Steve Hix/Somos Images/Corbis

The American Heart Association is urging Americans not to eat so much sugar — a major villain in the country’s obesity epidemic, and a possible cause of other risk factors for heart disease too, including high blood pressure. Adult women should generally eat no more than six teaspoons per day of added sugars (100 calories) and men no more than nine (150 calories), the AHA says. And that’s a whole lot less than we’re currently getting.

From 2001-2004, a large nationally representative survey called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that Americans eat on average 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day, about 355 calories’ worth. That’s more than double the new AHA limits, which are based on dietary guidelines about minimum intake of various essential nutrients and about maximum calories for weight maintenance. Even toddlers aged 1-3 eat about 12.2 teaspoons of added sugars, the NHANES study found.

It’s no surprise that Americans are getting pudgier then. But while there’s no secret to cutting sugar from your diet, you may be surprised where most of those sugars come from. The AHA considered “added sugars” to be anything from table sugar to honey and syrup. (So the natural sugars in your carrots don’t count, but the maple glaze on top of them does.) Still, about one third (33%) of Americans’ added-sugar calories are just from soft drinks. That’s about double the proportion that comes from candies (16%) or from cakes, cookies and pies (13%). A single soda can contains about eight teaspoons of sugar, the AHA reports. A further 10% of an average American’s added-sugar calories come from sweetened fruit drinks, like punch and lemonade. If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and cheap way to trim sugar from your diet, start by cutting out sweetened drinks. Pick diet soft drinks or, better yet, just pour yourself a glass of water.