How to Cut Back on the Sneaky Ingredient We’re All Eating Too Much Of

Last week, the big health news floating around the Internet was the government’s update to the Dietary Guidelines, in which they mostly cracked down on sugar, an ingredient that is all over the place, sometimes hidden (Hi, added sugar in jarred tomato sauce) and sometimes in plain view (We’re looking at you, Dunkin’ Donuts).

From NPR: “Americans are being told to limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. As we’ve reported, lots of Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons a day. To meet the new 10 percent target, they’d need to cut their sugar intake by nearly half — to no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.”

See what we mean by cracking down? And the new Dietary Guidelines aren’t the only place you’ll find a wagging finger directed at the amount of sugar Americans consume: Added sugar was a key character in the 2014 documentary Fed Up and, not too long ago, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gave a passionate TED Talk about food-related health issues, focusing much of his talk on added sugars in foods. The bottom line when it comes to the Dietary Guidelines, Fed Up and  Oliver’s talk? We’re eating way too much sugar, and all this sugar in our diets is fueling the obesity epidemic.

So the question is this: What are easy, simple ways you can cut back on sugar? (Because let’s be honest: If it’s a huge hassle, many of us aren’t going to do it.) We chatted with registered dietitian Angie Asche of Eleat Sports Nutrition to get the scoop on her top five easy ways to cut back on sugar, from ditching sugary beverages (but you knew you should do that, right?) to being a bit smarter about your granola bar choices, and more. Check them out below.

1. Quit drinking your sugar fix.

A 12-ounce can of Coke contains over nine teaspoons of sugar, or 75 percent of your daily sugar allowance. I’m going to pause here to let that soak in for a minute. Okay — gross, right? And sugary coffee drinks like a caramel macchiato from Starbucks — which boasts a whopping 32 grams of sugar, or eight teaspoons — aren’t any better. Asche says her number one suggestion for folks trying to cut back on sugar would be to cut back on your intake of sugary drinks. And if you’re someone who always needs to be drinking something, try squeezing some lemon in your water to give it a boost of flavor. It will save you many-a teaspoon of sugar. And bonus: Lemon is a superfood when it comes to your skin.

2. Beware of the granola bar aisle.

As Asche explains, granola bars and yogurt are two items often marketed as healthy options, but many of them contain tons of added sugar — some with “as much or more added sugar as a candy bar!” So when picking out items that are meant to be healthy on-the-go snacks, be sure to read the back of the label. If you see added sugar, or any of the words use to disguise added sugar (examples include brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice), as one of the first ingredients, don’t buy it. To avoid hidden sugars, Asche suggests making your own granola bars and sweetening them with dates (recipe here) — or if you aren’t a cook, Lara Bars are a great option — and swapping flavored yogurt for plain Greek yogurt, then jazzing it up yourself with fresh fruit, and filling toppings like sliced nuts.

3. Choose your condiments wisely.

“Ketchup is one product people don’t realize has quite a bit of added sugar,” Asche says. When dipping your sweet potato fries and dressing sandwiches, Asche suggests opting for condiments without added sugar. Think: mustard, salsa, pesto, vinegar and so on. When it comes to sugar sneaking into condiments, you’ll find the same problem with common pantry staples like tomato sauce and salad dressings. So again, always read the back of the label.

4. Trade in your ice cream addiction for this.

Asche is a big fan of the banana whip (as are we) as dessert. You can make a banana whip at home (just blend frozen bananas with some vanilla extract and a spoonful of your favorite nut butter, then shower with your favorite toppings like nuts, coconut shavings and so on), or you can grab one from one of the many Philly eateries that offer banana whips. As Asche says, “You’ll be surprised at how much frozen bananas taste like ice cream.” We concur. It is truly a shocker.

5. Just say no to sugary cereals.

“This tip is especially important for parents trying to find ways for their kids to eat healthier, as breakfast cereals targeted to children are higher in sugar,” Asche says. And even cereals marketed as healthy options can be loaded with  sugar. For instance, Kellogg’s Smart Start has 14 grams of sugar per serving — on par with Cap’n Crunch. Instead, reach for homemade oatmeal with fresh fruit like berries and bananas to sweeten it up, Asche says. And if you’re a morning-toast kind of guy or gal, top your toast with fresh fruit, like banana slices or diced strawberries, instead of sugar-laden jam. Or make a quick five-second fruit jam (literally, it takes five seconds), to smear on toast or add to oatmeal.

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