by Daniella Blau and Alisa Scherban, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N.
Most of us eat too much sugar.
And since sugar in one form or another is added to nearly everything from bread to yogurt to spaghetti sauce, cutting back can be tough.
While you can't avoid sugar completely, there are some easy ways to make changes that will have a big effect.
Make big strides to cut down on added sugar — and calories — with just a few small changes.
1. Watch what you drink. If you drink one or more sweetened beverages a day, consider making some small changes. Choose diet soft drinks or seltzer, cut back on the sugar and/or flavored syrups you add to your coffee, and mix fruit juice with seltzer. Drinking more water is a great way to quench thirst without added anything!
2. Snack smart! Snack-time doesn't have to mean a sugar-fest from the vending machine. You may think granola bars are a great afternoon pick me-up but on average they have 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar. Take a look at the label and avoid anything with 6 grams of sugar or more. Choose snacks such as popcorn, fresh fruit, sliced vegetables, low-fat cheese or whole-grain crackers instead of packaged chips, cookies, donuts and candy bars. Remember, if you plan your mid-afternoon snacks ahead of time, you're more likely to make smarter choices.
3. Eat more fruit! All fruits contain a naturally occurring sugar called fructose. One serving of fruit generally has around 15 grams of sugar in it. But the good news is along with the sugar you're getting beneficial dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, you're more likely to feel full after eating a piece of fruit then a sugary snack such as cookies or candies with the same amount of calories. Remember that drinking fruit juice won't deliver the same benefits as eating whole fruit. One 8-ounce serving of fruit juice delivers about 20-30 grams of sugar, almost no fiber and probably won't fill you up.
4. Check that yogurt! While yogurt can be a nutritious food, most fruit-flavored varieties are packed with added sugar. Try comparing nutrition labels of yogurts the next time you are in the dairy aisle. There is a huge difference in sugar content due to added sugars in some yogurts and the small amount of natural sugar in others. A cup of plain yogurt will have about 12 grams of sugar naturally (lactose). Try buying plain yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit.
5. Be choosy with cereal. Yes, there are lots of choices in the cereal aisle. Unfortunately, sugar is often a top ingredient, even in some seemingly healthy options that have "oats" or "whole-grain" in the name. The best bet is to turn over the label a look at the grams of sugar first. Avoid brands with more than 6 grams. Some good bets are Cheerios, Bran Chex and Shredded Wheat 'n' Bran.
Daniela Blau R.D., is a Registered Dietitian at Mount Sinai Medical Center and contributes to several publications on nutrition topics.
Alisa Scherban contributes regularly to Alere's nutrition content offerings. She was a Clinical Nutritionist at New York Presbyterian's Cornell campus, and has extensive experience conducting nutritional assessments, developing nutritional care plans and counseling patients.
© Alere. All rights reserved. Last reviewed March 2012. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.