National Nutrition Month: Beware of Hidden Sugars

By Anne Widga, University Health Center dietitian

In honor of National Nutrition Month, we’ll provide several healthy eating tips for college life on our blog over the next few weeks. In today’s post, we focus on sugar.

Most of us get too many calories from sugars on an average day. This can cause weight gain and chronic health problems, which is one reason why many dietitians recommend people reduce their general sugar intake for a healthier lifestyle.

Unfortunately, eating less sugar isn’t as simple as cutting desserts or soda from your diet.

Sugar is added to many processed foods and beverages by food manufacturers to enhance taste and prolong shelf life. For example, did you know fruit juices, energy and sports drinks, BBQ sauce, packaged cereals, pasta sauces, flavored yogurts and crackers can pack a punch of sugar in every serving? Even breads and frozen meals can have high sugar content. Don’t forget that some people add sugar to their cereal, coffee or tea. All of this can add up fast!

If you’re serious about limiting your sugar intake, here are four realistic steps to help you reach your goal:

  1. Pay attention to the ingredient list. The Nutrition Facts label doesn’t tell you how much of a food’s sugar content is natural or added during processing. The best place to find this information is in the ingredients list. The items listed first are the primary ingredients. As you examine this list, watch out for sugars called by other names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, etc. These are added sugars and, when calculated together, could easily be the first ingredients on the list!
  2. Choose a piece of fruit over a processed dessert. Fruits have natural sugar, which is better for you than added sugar. They also have fiber and important vitamins and minerals that the body needs. If fruits don’t satisfy your sweet tooth right away, give it time. The more you reduce added sugar from your diet, the more natural sugar will taste sweet and satisfying.
  3. Drink more water. If you’re a natural soda or juice drinker, this may take time. Try substituting one sweetened drink a day with water and increase that number by one a week.
  4. Enjoy sugar in moderation. If you completely abstain from your favorite sweet treat, you may find yourself overeating later. It’s OK to indulge every once in a while. If it helps, consider planning your treat into your diet that week; it may be easier to eat healthy knowing you plan to reward yourself with a cookie or candy bar later in the week.

Want to learn more about eating well? Schedule an appointment with the University Health Center dietitian by calling 402.472.5000. Students who pay student fees get their first session at no additional cost.


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