When it comes to total sugar intake, here's a fact: We should all be eating less added sugar. But how to do it? For starters, naturally sweet foods with no added sugar can satisfy your sweet tooth. I'm giving you lots of sugar information, including the best natural sugar foods and more.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, then curbing your intake of added sugar isn't the easiest thing for you! And Americans love sugar: On average, we eat about 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily in the form of table sugar, honey, syrups, and more. But there are very doable ways to cut back on this amount. For starters, it begins with the naturally sweet foods list that follows.
What is Added Sugar & What is Natural Sugar?
Have you ever stopped to think about how much added sugar you eat in a day? I'm not talking about the naturally occurring sugars that come from fruit, vegetables (yes, veggies contain some sugar!), or unsweetened milk products. I'm talking about the sugars that are added to foods like baked goods, yogurt and even ketchup.
Added sugar is sugar that isn't naturally occurring in food. Sources of added sugar include granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey. Not too long ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) set forth sugar guidelines. The guidelines suggest that sugars make up less than 10% of total daily calorie intake. That's 150 calories of sugar (or about 9 teaspoons or 38 grams of added sugar) per a 1,500-calorie daily diet. For extra benefit, the guidelines suggest further lowering intake to less than 5% of daily calories from sugar. To put that in perspective, 1.5 ounces of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar contains 12 grams of added sugar, whereas the same amount of Quaker Original Oatmeal has no added sugar. And a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of added sugar.
This 10% recommendation is close to what other health organizations recommend. The
American Heart Association, for instance, suggests that women take in about 100 calories from added sugar (or about 6 teaspoons); for men, this amount should be 150 calories. WHO attempted to
release the 10% recommendation in 2002—but it fell through, likely due to lobbying from the sugar industry.
The WHO guidelines reference two review studies. One study, published in BMJ, shows that lowering sugar intake may lead to a drop in weight of about 2 pounds. The other study, published in Journal of Dental Research, found that intake of free sugars of more than 10% is linked to higher rates of tooth decay.
The Health Effects of Added Sugar
No matter the guidelines, the average person consumes much more than any of the recommendations: 24 to 27 teaspoons per day, or 100 to 200 grams of sugar.
This is problematic for many reasons. A review study in
Open Heart found that added sugars may be an even bigger determinant for heart health than sodium. The study authors think that added sugars may increase your heart rate,
inflammation, variability in blood pressure—and can even cause disturbances in metabolism.
In the review study, researchers looked at several studies, finding that eating high amounts of added sugar significantly increases blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Even more shocking: One of the studies reviewed found that people who eat 25% or more of their daily calories from added sugar (so about 98 grams, or 24 teaspoons, for a 1,500-calorie daily diet) have almost three times the risk of dying from heart disease.
If you're wondering about natural sugars—such as those in an apple or handful of berries—these pose no risk, according to the research. Dietary guidelines suggest we drastically reduce this added sugar intake. Fortunately, there are plenty of naturally sweet foods to flavor recipes. Read on for the best natural sugar foods that curb sugar cravings, plus dietitian tips for reducing your total sugar intake.
Here's some food science for you: Heat boosts the natural sweeteners in food, especially the sweetness of fruits. Berries, which get their rich color from disease-fighting anthocyanins, are great candidates for a quick sauté and might just be the best natural sweetener out there. Peaches and apples are also great candidates for naturally sweet fruit that get even sweeter with heat.
Quickie Recipe: Coat a medium skillet with 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil and place over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup berries; cook, stirring often, until soft, 3-4 minutes. Mix berries into cooked oatmeal, along with slivered almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a dash of nutmeg.
Because fruit is comprised largely of water and sugar, drying concentrates its sugar content, amping up sweetness. Dried sweet dates in particular have a high sweet factor, plus nutrition in the form of fiber. Just one Medjool date delivers up to 6% of your recommended daily fiber intake. Curious about which fruits have the least sugar?
Good for: A honey substitute in smoothies, blended with almond milk and ice for a healthy shake, a binder in fruit-and-nut bar recipes
Quickie recipe: Blend a pitted Medjool date with a frozen banana, almond milk, and cinnamon for a naturally sweet smoothie.
Veggies have natural sugars, too, and are one of the best all-natural sweeteners out there. When onions are cooked over low, slow heat, their complex sugars break down into simpler ones, yielding a slightly sweet flavor. Onions also contain the antioxidant quercetin, which may help lower your risk for certain cancers.
Good for: Topping for a sandwich, baked potato, or pizza; as an omelet filling
Quickie recipe: Heat ½ Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add half a sliced onion, cover, and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook while stirring until onion browns, 5-10 minutes. Fold a few spoonfuls into an omelet with goat cheese. Save the rest as the best sandwich fillings!
Nutritionist Tips to Curb Your Total Sugar Intake
1. Read the ingredients list.
Examples of sugar are many. Added sugar may be present under many code names—including fructose, maltose, sucrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, honey, and more.
2. Try plain yogurt
A fruit-flavored 6-ounce yogurt can have 27 grams of sugar. Choose a no-added-sugar yogurt, and you’ll take in less than a fourth of that amount—and all the sugar you do get is naturally occurring sugar. If the plain yogurt tastes too tart, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon (one of the healthiest natural sweetener ideas out there), sliced fruit, or berries.
3. Buy no-sugar-added marinara
Tomato sauces can have 8 grams of sugar per a half-cup serving. Look for one that has no added sugar (and thus an impressive sugar label!), such as Lucini Italia Tuscan Marinara Sauce with Roasted Garlic, with only 3 grams of sugar per serving. You can also make a DYI tomato sauce. “You will feel like an Italian chef with a savory sauce simmering away in your house," says Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals.
3. Ask for just one pump
Most flavored coffees come with at least a few pumps of sweetener—and each pump contains about 20 grams of sugar, almost an entire day’s worth!
4. Don't drink your sugar
Say bye-bye to sodas and sugary fruit cocktails. “Instead, infuse your water with fruit by combining fresh sliced fruit and water in a
pitcher and letting it sit overnight,” advises Natalie Rizzo, a sports dietitian in New York City. “Or for a frozen treat, make fruit ice cubes.”
5. Swap soda for tea
Add tea to your list of foods with no added
sugar. “I love to drink
herbal teas like peach, apple, lemon, or raspberry—hot or iced—when I want something sweet and I need to make water more exciting,” says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, owner of
80 Twenty Nutrition.
6. Sweeten oatmeal with fruit
Frozen fruits are healthy natural sweeteners. “Add frozen berries to your plain, warm, cooked oatmeal bowl instead of purchasing instant oatmeal that's packaged with added sugar,” says Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, founder of YES! Nutrition. “The frozen berries melt and nearly liquefy into the oatmeal—and a sweet, delicious flavor results.”
7. Add some citrus
Citrus can be a natural sweetener for baking. “It livens up most anything you add it to, and this is especially true for lower-sugar baked goods,” says Regan Jones, RD, cofounder of the dietitian-moderated recipe site “Add lemon zest to your blueberry muffins, and try cutting back the sugar in the recipe by about a quarter.”
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I'd love to hear from you! Let me know if you try any of these naturally sweet foods with no added sugar. Do you have any sugar-reducing tips to add to this list? Add 'em to the comments below! Tag @amydgorin on Instagram and Pinterest and @amygorin on Twitter and Facebook.
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