February is Heart Health Month, and while most of us have heard the recommendation to eat less saturated fat and sodium, did you know the American Heart Association also recommends limiting added sugars for heart health? Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit or cow’s milk, are not considered added sugars.
Added sugars contribute calories but no essential nutrients and make it difficult to consume a healthy diet without taking in too many calories. Too much sugar in the diet is linked to increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, inflammation in the body and tooth decay.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 calories per day (6 teaspoons or 24 grams) for most women and 150 calories per day (9 teaspoons or 36 grams) for most men. In 2017-18, the average intake of added sugars was 17 teaspoons per day for adults over the age of 20.
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Added sugar is now required to be called out on food labels in the form of grams per serving. You can also keep your eye on the ingredient list. Added sugar can come from many ingredients, including cane syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, raw sugar, sucrose, maltose, malt syrup and maple syrup to name a few! It may be surprising to some but natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup still count as added sugars as they do not contribute significant nutrients other than calories in a standard portion.
The biggest sources of added sugars in the American diet, in order, are sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts/sweet snacks, coffee/tea and candy. Even beverages that are marketed as being healthy can have added sugar such as sports drinks, fruit drinks, teas and flavored milks.
Tips to decrease your added sugar intake:
- Enjoy fruit for dessert most days and save the sweets for special occasions.
- Cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages. Choose water, unsweetened tea, sparkling water or low-fat milk.
- If you do drink juice, look for 100% juice and remember that 4 ounces (½ cup) is a serving.
- Choose unsweetened oatmeal and cereal with less sugar. Add fruit or dried fruit to sweeten.
- Look for sugar-free yogurt or purchase plain yogurt and add your own fruit and nuts for flavor.
- Look for recipes using fruit puree, such as banana or applesauce, instead of sugar to sweeten baked goods.
- Use spices such as cinnamon, ginger, mint, and vanilla extract to add depth of flavor.
- Noncaloric sweeteners such as stevia extract, monkfruit extract, sucralose, and others may be used to add sweetness without the calories.
It may take some getting used to, but your taste buds will adjust and you may find that sweetened beverages and foods you used to enjoy are now too sweet! Try the recipes below for something sweet without added sugar.
Find more resources at heart.org and dietaryguidelines.gov.
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons orange zest
In a small bowl, combine the juices, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir to mix evenly. Peel the pears and leave the stems. Remove the core from the bottom of the pear. Place in a shallow pan. Add the juice mixture to the pan and set over medium heat. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, turning pears frequently. Don’t boil. Transfer the pears to individual serving plates. Garnish with raspberries and orange zest and serve immediately.
Nutrition information: Per serving (1 pear): Calories 140, fat 0.5 g, saturated fat 0 g, cholesterol 0 mg, sodium 9 mg, carbohydrate 34 g, fiber 2 g, protein 1 g
Whole Wheat Blueberry Blender Pancakes
By Mayo Clinic Staff (adapted from recipe by Jamie Oliver)
Dietitian’s tip: These hearty pancakes are as easy to throw together as a smoothie! They contain no added sugar, provide a full serving of fruit per serving and are 100% whole wheat. Amp up the protein by serving with Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of nuts.
1 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup fat free vanilla Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons unsalted pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds or pumpkin seeds
½ cup seasonal or thawed frozen fruit
Heat a large, nonstick frying pan on medium-high heat. Place half the blueberries, banana, milk, egg, flour, baking powder and salt into a bender. Blend until smooth. Remove blade from blender if able, or pour batter into a medium bowl. Fold in remaining blueberries. Spray pan with cooking spray. Scoop ¼ cup of batter into the pan. Cook for a couple minutes on each side, until golden and springs back when lightly pressed in the center.
Nutrition information: Per serving (3 pancakes): Calories 240, fat 2.5 g, saturated fat 0.5 g, sodium 295 mg, carbohydrate 50 g, fiber 7.5 g, protein 9 g
Romi Londre is a Registered Dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System