The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released last month by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments, suggested reducing added sugars for the first time since the first installment was published in 1980.
This is a monumental shift in our country’s nutritional awareness and consumption habits. There are volumes of research about the ill effects of added sugar—from cancer to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and, of course, tooth decay. Along with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposals to call out sugars on some nutrition labels, there is much to celebrate. These are wonderful steps toward helping empower consumers to make healthy food decisions.
I hope these are only our first steps, though.
While the new dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10% of daily intake (50 grams based on a 2,000 calorie diet), the World Health Organization recommends 5%. This is probably closer to where we need to be. We also can’t forget nutrition labels are based on a standard adult male; women and children will still need to calculate their limits and make informed choices.
One reason limiting added sugar in our diets is so hard, and so important for government agencies to monitor, is that many food manufacturers make it so. Added sugar can be hard to gauge for average consumers, but can be found on almost every grocery store shelf. The average woman would soar past her 10% of daily intake calories by drinking a single glass of juice or can of soda. Children could easily meet their limits eating one flavored yogurt or granola bar.
That’s why I was motivated to start my own food company, Peeled Snacks, twelve years ago. I worked at a large, traditional food company and was troubled by their version of “food.” There, I learned most of our food was loaded with added sugar, preservatives and chemicals. Back then I knew people deserved better food than that, and they still do! My team and I are on a mission to take the mystery—and added sugar—out of snacking so we can feel good about what we eat.
With the right information, limiting added sugar is possible, and even enjoyable! Here are a few tips based on the new dietary guidelines.
Know the difference between added and natural sugar. Added sugars are found in syrups and most processed foods. Natural sugars found in fruits and dairy products are part of a healthy diet. These sugars are not linked to adverse health effects and shouldn’t be avoided in the same way as added sugars.
Eat whole fresh or dried fruit. The new dietary guidelines encourage us to eat whole fruits – not just their juices – for good reason. Whole fruits contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients, which have been shown to help us feel full longer, lower the risk of cancer and heart disease, lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. When we don’t eat the whole fruit, these benefits get squeezed out. Besides, most fruit juices sold in stores contain…you guessed it! Added sugar.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods. The new guidelines confirm what we already know: Americans don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables. They pointed out that 9 in 10 of us don’t get the recommended amounts of veggies per day. The good news is that once we truly limit foods with added sugars, there is much more room for healthier foods. Fruits and vegetables also don’t have to be limited to the dinner plate; snack on them regularly to reduce added sugar cravings and keep your body satiated on good foods throughout the day.
Limiting sugar doesn’t mean we need to limit our appetites for good foods. Reducing added sugars and eating more fruits and vegetables is doable if we take it one step at a time.