Use National Nutrition Month to make progress towards meeting the goals of the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans by reducing the added sugars in your diet
If you’re a numbers person you’re going to love the news in the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Guidelines) about the amount of added sugars we can include in our diets. If you don’t like mathematics or tracking everything you eat, the news is dreadful.
The Guidelines say we should limit our added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our total calories as part of a healthy eating pattern. To figure that out we need to record the calories in everything we eat and drink all day so we can find the total calories we consume, and then take 10 percent of that to know how many calories we can devote to added sugars. Once we have that number we must divide it by 4 to determine the number of grams our added sugars can weigh, or we can divide the sugar calories by 16 to calculate the number of teaspoons we can have.
Now all we have to do is keep track of those grams and/or teaspoons of sugar, along with all the calories, to be sure we don’t exceed our daily allowance. And don’t forget to reserve some of your “sugar allotment” if you have a special occasion coming up that might include a decadent dessert. You need to budget for that.
What’s Missing from the Sugar Reduction Strategy?
A thorough reading of the 300+ pages of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in early 2016, did reveal a few shortcuts to these calculations, but the results won’t be as accurate. The “strategies” offered to help us reduce added sugars from our beverages are to simply omit the sugar, choose unsweetened drinks or ones containing less sugar, have sweetened drinks less often or have them in smaller portions.
The only strategies on how to reduce added sugars from grain-based desserts (cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, and pastries) or dairy desserts (ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, and custard) are equally imprecise. The Guidelines suggest “limiting or decreasing portion size” or choosing the unsweetened or no-sugar added versions.
Given these options you’ll be out of luck if your menu tonight includes a garden salad with French dressing, grilled chicken with barbecue sauce and a side of baked beans, a tall glass of fresh squeezed lemonade and some homemade blueberry crisp for dessert. You’d be getting more than 25 teaspoons of added sugars in that meal, even with modest portions, and that’s more than double the amount most of us can include in our daily diets.
That just doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t hold true to another key message in the Guidelines that states, “Any eating pattern can be tailored to the individual’s socio-cultural and personal preferences.”
What’s missing from these “strategies” are ways to use high-intensity sweeteners (also known as sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners), or products made with them, to replace some of the added sugars in our food and beverages so we can retain the sweet taste that is such an integral part of our eating experience.
What the Guidelines do say on the subject is:
“High-intensity sweeteners that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), and sucralose. Based on the available scientific evidence, these high-intensity sweeteners have been determined to be safe for the general population.”
Why not recommend high-intensity sweeteners as a guaranteed way to reduce added sugars in the diet? Every time they are used in a food or beverage they can reduce our total added sugars consumption while providing the sweet taste we want. Instead, we are being asked to give up or use less honey in our tea, syrup on our pancakes and jelly with our peanut butter.
Replacing some of the added sugars in our diets with high-intensity sweeteners is a “strategy” that can produce big results without doing all that math. Substituting one can of diet soda for a can of regular soda automatically eliminates 10 teaspoons of added sugars from our day no matter what other changes we may make. Using a yellow sugar substitute packet instead of sugar in three cups of coffee a day removes six teaspoons of sugar from our tally. Preparing blueberry crisp with a sugar substitute deletes a cup of sugar from the recipe.
There are many other food and beverage choices we must also make to meet the goals in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Having the chance to enjoy a little sweetness in our meals will make them easier.
About the author: Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and cultural anthropologist with over 35 years of experience specializing in food, nutrition and health communications. She is a consultant to several food and beverage companies, including the Calorie Control Council and Heartland Food Products Group. She is author of the blog “The Everyday RD” and tweets as @EverydayRD.
This blog was originally written for FoodConsumer.org. You can read the original post here.