This article originally appeared in the December 2019 edition of Senior Scope. Article by Seth Thomas. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

While selecting items at the grocery store, you may see one ingredient used over and over again. Sugar is everywhere – from pasta sauce to crackers, which makes cutting back on sugar challenging.

Sugar comes in two forms. Some foods contain naturally occurring sugar, such a fruit, milk and honey. Added sugars are any sugars or sweeteners added to foods or drinks during processing or preparation.

According to the latest health research from the University of California San Francisco, added sugar is found in nearly three quarters of packaged foods.

“Sugar is so present in our food that we have to be aware of it,” said Katlynn Ferreira, a registered dietitian with Coastline. “We always want to get the most nutrition that we can in every bite.”

Sweet treats, such as soda, cakes and ice cream, are a major source of added sugar. But many foods you might not suspect (such as ketchup, chicken broth and salad dressing) and some foods you may think of as “healthy” (like low-fat yogurt, granola, smoothies and trail mix) can be loaded with added sugar.

According to Ferreira, when we fill up on added sugars, we’re adding calories to our diets – and not much else.

“In general, added sugar takes the place of wholesome food. Instead of eating foods that contain vitamins, minerals, fiber or protein, we’re just eating sugar and calories,” said Ferreira. “We can’t meet our energy needs – or our total calorie needs – in a day if we’re eating more than ten percent of calories from sugar, which most Americans are.”

The Centers for Disease Control warns that consuming excess added sugar can lead to health problems, including weight gain and heart problems. Currently, the American Heart Association recommends that women limit their total daily intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) and men limit their intake to 9 teaspoons (36 grams).

The key to cutting back on sugar is to read the Nutrition Facts label carefully. Added sugars can appear on the ingredient list under a variety of different names, including sugar alcohols, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, corn syrup, crystal solids, dextrose, evaporated cane juice or sucrose.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has new guidelines for manufacturers that require added sugars to be clearly listed on the Nutrition Facts label. While some companies are already using the new label, large manufacturers will be required to make the switch in January 2020.

Don’t be deceived by the buzzwords food manufacturers use on the front of food packaging. Many of the terms you see, like “lower in sugar,” lack context and are largely meaningless. If the front of the box claims that a food is “made with real honey,” that still means the product contains sugar. If the product claims that it was made “without added sugars,” you’re on the right track. But, once again, the Nutrition Facts label will provide a more complete picture.

Beyond checking the label, you can reduce your sugar intake by ditching your table sugar. Gradually cutting back on the amount of sugar you’re adding to coffee can help keep you beneath your daily limit. Diluting fruit juices with water will translate into less sugar per serving. And, when you buy a juice, look for products that are labeled as “100% fruit juice.” To sweeten cereals or oatmeal, add sliced banana or blueberries, rather than scooping on granulated sugar.

Because sugary treats are often served throughout the holiday season, Ferreira said the trick is to pick your battles.

“Instead of having a little bit of everything, pick the things that you know you’re going to enjoy instead of tasting something just to taste it,” she said. “You might as well save the bites for the dessert that you’ve been waiting all year for.”

For more nutrition tips, visit the Dartmouth Council on Aging’s free Pound by Pound group, held Mondays at 10 a.m., where Ferreira is a regular guest speaker. For coverage of past discussions, visit the Senior Scope archives online by clicking here.

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