Nutrition Education

 

How to Tame Your Sweet Tooth in 3 Steps

By Melinda Johnson, MS, RDN, Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University. Article reprinted from US News & World Report, Jan 22, 2015

We consume too much sugar – but there are easy ways to start cutting back today.

Ah, sugar.  Such a useful ingredient, but so easy to overdo.  Sugar, on its own, is not the poison it is made out to be. It can be quite functional in foods, adding sweetness of course, but also acting as a natural preservative in foods like jam or aiding in the nice brown color in bread crusts.  

The root of the problem is this: We just eat too much of it. Americans have a sweet tooth, and it's likely contributing to our expanding waistline simply because of the extra calories it provides. There's also evidence that this overconsumption of sugar is contributing to other problems, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, which equates to 320 calories. It's recommended that the average woman consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar (which would be about 6 teaspoons), while men consume no more than 150 calories a day from added sugar (approximately 9 teaspoons).

Here are three steps to start to put sugar back into its proper place in your diet:

Step 1: Learn to visualize sugar content in teaspoons.

Sugar is listed in grams on food labels, which is not very useful for most Americans – it's a measurement we don’t have visual cues for, because we cook using standard measurements such as cups and teaspoons. It can be very helpful, not to mention eye-opening, to do a quick math equation using this formula:

 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar

When you remember this equation, it suddenly becomes very easy to visualize how many teaspoons of sugar you might be consuming.

Here are some examples of commonly consumed foods or beverages:

One packet of sugar

4 grams = 1 teaspoon

One tablespoon of flavored coffee creamer

5 grams = 1 ¼ teaspoons

One bottle of Starbucks Vanilla Frappucino

31 grams = 7 ¾ teaspoons

One can of Cola

33 grams = 8 ¼ teaspoons

32-ounce fountain soda with ice

91 grams = 22 ¾ teaspoons

Medium-size blueberry muffin

37 grams = 9 ¼ teaspoons

Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal (3/4 cup)

15 grams = 3 ¾ teaspoons

One cup of cookie-dough ice cream

50 grams = 12 ½ teaspoons


Step 2: Shave off sugar where you can.

Despite some popular fad diet warnings, it's not necessary to rid your diet of sugar entirely. However, most of us do need to rein it in a bit, and use our recommended sugar allowance more strategically. Simple swaps are helpful here – choosing water over a can of regular soda, for example, shaves off about 140 calories. Choosing lower sugar breakfast cereals, using less flavored creamer in your coffee and snacking on unsalted almonds instead of an energy bar are all painless ways to trim away the sugar grams without feeling deprived. 

Step 3: Put your taste buds in training.

Our taste preferences are adjustable and trainable, to a point. While all humans are born with an innate preference for a sweet taste, we develop a threshold of preference for sweetness based on what we typically eat. We can also develop a fondness for less sweet foods, with patience – very few people like the taste of black coffee or unsweetened tea on the first try, but they develop a preference for the unsweetened version over time. 

You might need to consciously put your taste buds into a training program if you don’t like the taste of less-sweet foods initially. For example, say you typically squeeze a generous dollop of honey into your morning smoothie. Experiment with adding half your usual amount for a few mornings, giving yourself time to adjust to the level of sweetness.

Part of this training program is also consciously trying to develop your palate’s appreciation of the other types of taste – that is, consuming foods that are savory, bitter or sour. If you like flavored yogurt, for example, try buying unsweetened yogurt and adding a small amount of fruit and honey to begin appreciating the natural sour taste of plain yogurt.

 

Posted by Mr. Tom Casey on Monday February, 2, 2015

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