By now we all know that Americans consume more sugar than we should. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), every American consumes 31 five-pound bags of sugar a year. That's 156 pounds!
The dirty little secret in that statistic is that only 29 pounds of it is real sugar (or sucrose). The rest is hidden sugar that shows up in processed foods, sodas and juices. Some of these are supposedly "healthy" foods like some granolas, yogurts, salad dressings and smoothies.
It is this hidden sugar that sneaks up on us adding pounds to our waistlines and contributing to the near epidemic levels of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease in America.
So what can we do about it? The answer is actually quite simple in theory: Stop eating processed foods and stop drinking sugary drinks.
Being mindful about your choices can make a huge difference in the amount of sugar we consume.
Read the labels. Sugar goes by many different names, so before you buy those crackers or even those kale chips, check out the label and make sure you are choosing products without added sugars. Adding fresh fruit to plain yogurt or making your own salad dressing (3-4 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar) are two quick ways to reduce sugar intake and they taste better.
Reduce soda and juice. We drink more sugary soda and juice made from concentrate than we do water. Flip that equation and consider soda as a dessert -- an occasional treat -- not for when you are thirsty. Have an orange instead of orange juice. The pulp adds fiber, which balances out how the sugar is processed in your body. Consuming sports drinks after a work out's silly at best. You get exercise to be good to your body. Why negate that with a sugary sports drink? The average person will do fine with water.
Be careful what you eat for breakfast. Smoothies, coffee frappes, breakfast cereal, blueberry muffins and bagels can contain more sugar than you think. (Check out WebMD's Food-o-meter for help in making choices.)
I realize these changes, for some, are easier said than done, but when you start reading labels (sugar has dozens of names!), you will be shocked how much sugar is in processed foods. We all recognize high fructose corn syrup as added sugar but what about rice syrup, maltose and dextrose? And what's the point of consuming sugar if it isn't in a dessert where we get the most pleasure from it?
We should "save" our sugar allowance for those special occasions when we celebrate a friend's birthday with a piece of cake or slowly savor an ice cream cone on a hot day.
I'm a pastry chef. I love dessert, and even in this crazy sugar-is-bad-for-you world I am still proud to be one. Dessert is an important part of our culture. Sharing a dessert with your best friend while you talk about life is loving, comforting and special. I live to make desserts. But I also want to live a long healthy life surrounded by friends and family so I have learned to curb my sugar consumption and be selective. I feel so strongly about this I have started a social media platform #dessertworthy (T @dessertworthy, IG @dessertworthymovement and FB htps://www.facebook.com/dessertworthymovement).
When you are thinking about having dessert don't just blindly consume it. Consider whether something is truly #dessertworthy. Is it made with good quality ingredients baked to perfection? If not pass and save it for another time. If so enjoy it every last bite but remember it's a treat not an everyday occurrence.
We can all make the choice to reduce sugar in our diets. Some days may be harder than others but that's no reason not to start today. By doing some simple things, we can all curb our sugar intake, reduce the risk of preventable disease and enjoy life to the fullest which can include dessert.
This blog is also featured on The Institute for Responsible Nutrition's website www.responsiblefoods.org.