As a nutritionist and health coach, I spend my days helping people change their diet in order to change their health. It is deeply rewarding to witness the transformative effects that nutrition brings to health and well-being. In my efforts to understand and translate science-based research for the benefit of my clients, last month I joined the Oldways conference, Finding Common Ground, where diet and nutrition experts convened for two days to reach consensus on what Americans should be eating. It was thrilling to listen to the world’s top nutrition scientists debating the merits of competing dietary philosophies.
As the conference opened on the first morning, I wondered how such divergent viewpoints could ever come together — Paleo vs. vegan, low-fat vs. low-carb and Mediterranean vs. vegetarian. Saturated fat, not surprisingly, was controversial, with dueling scientists offering conflicting evidence on the dangers of butter, bacon and red meat. Happily, the group agreed on many points including the importance of high vegetable intake for a healthy diet and the critical imperative of making sustainability an area of focus for our food system.
Many of the Oldways conference scientists had previously been involved in making recommendations to the government on dietary advice. It was reaffirming to see that in this conference and in the recent report issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, these experts mandated a cap on sugar for the first time.
A key takeaway for eaters everywhere was the universal support for a diet which actively reduces sugar by limiting sugar intake to no more than 10% of daily calories, which translates to about 12 teaspoons for most adults. Armed with the knowledge that reducing added sugar is key to a healthy diet, Americans are now tasked with the difficult job of controlling their sugar intake, while many everyday food products, from breakfast cereal to tomato sauce have many teaspoons of added sugar per serving–hidden sugar!
Undoubtedly, cutting out soda, afternoon cookies, or sugary snacks is the first step, but even after you’ve done that, sugar still sneaks into your diet with popular main course meals and snacks which contain hidden sugar. Follow our tips below to stay below the daily sugar cap.
- Substitute a protein shake for breakfast instead of a packaged breakfast cereal or a muffin. Even a seemingly healthy cereal such as Raisin Bran has 18 grams of sugar in a small 1-cup portion
- Avoid baked goods for breakfast or a snack. They may look tempting in the display case when you’re in line for a coffee, but, in addition to unhealthy refined flour and oils, most baked goods are loaded with sugar. Panera’s pumpkin muffin, for example, has 53 grams of sugar and Starbucks’ tiny blueberry scone has 20 grams of sugar.
- Packaged yogurt is also a huge source of hidden sugar–with some brands totaling 25 grams in a small 6 ounce container. Always choose the “plain” or “unsweetened” flavor and add your own fruit or a touch of honey if you need some sweetness.
- Make your own tomato sauce using (BPA-free) canned or boxed crushed tomato rather than opting for sugar-laden sauces such as Francesco Rinaldi brand’s “Sweet and Tasty” sauce, (12 grams per serving) or Ragú, which contain 6 – 7 grams of sugar. Some brands, including Ragú are now offering “no sugar added” versions of their sauces, so if you can find one of those, that’s a better option.
- Follow Katrine’s advice with regard to smoothies and green drinks in her excellent analysis of hidden sugar in “healthy” green juices. Packaged smoothies from companies like Odwalla often contain 50 grams of sugar!
- Sales of “healthy” convenience foods are on the rise and manufacturers are jumping on board, flooding the market with packaged snacks and bars that claim health benefits. Choose carefully when you buy protein bars and granola bars because most of them have 20 – 30 grams of sugar in one small bar. I like KIND bars’ “Nuts and Spices” line which clearly specifies “5 grams of sugar or less” right on the front of the package.