Do you have a persistent sweet tooth? Are you aware of the many dangers of giving into your cravings? In general, Americans consume too much sugar and the supporting statistics are appalling. The daily average consumption of added sugar by individuals is 300 calories (20 teaspoons or 80 grams). The current recommendation for added sugar by the American Heart Association is less than six teaspoons (24 grams) per day for women and nine teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. That means the average American is consuming 11-14 teaspoons (44-56 grams) above the recommendation. Although most people could not imagine eating 14 teaspoons of white sugar, it is easy to do consume that quantity because our food has so much sugar added to it.

The most common sources of added sugar in our diets (Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare in 2015) are:

  • Sodas, sports and energy drinks
  • Sweetened, ready-to-eat cereals
  • Processed sugar, such as table sugar and candy
  • Sweet baked goods, like cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Fruit drinks, such as fruit aids and fruit punch
  • Dairy items, such as ice cream and sweetened yogurt

Sucrose, the white table sugar we are familiar with, can be hidden within ingredient lists under a variety of sneaky names. Food manufacturers disguise sugar as a seemingly harmless or healthier ingredient, but they are still sugar and can expose us to disease if consumed in excess. Here are some examples:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Coconut Palm Sugar
  • Evaporated Cane Syrup or Juice

​The following ingredients still contribute added sugars, but are not as destructive as sucrose:

  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Agave Syrup
  • Juice Concentrates
  • Maltose/Dextrose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Honey

Are there alternatives to satisfying a sweet tooth?
There are several alternatives to high-calorie sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols (Xylitol, Sorbitol, Maltitol, Mannitol), which  naturally exist in plants, are not completely absorbed, have lower glycemic index than white sugar, have fewer calories per gram and do not promote tooth decay. The FDA recognizes Erythritol, Stevia, Isomalt, Sorbitol and Maltitol as being safe alternatives to white sugar because they are extracted from fruits, fermented foods, natural herbs, beets, stone fruits, berries, and starches.

Another alternative to traditional sweeteners is to use one of the FDA-approved sweeteners, such as Saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), Aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal), Sucralose (Splenda), although several of these have a bitter after taste and are chemically altered. Even though sweet foods exist naturally, like fresh fruits, our food supply has been overtaken by highly stimulating and overly sweet foods, so that natural sugars are less satisfying to a sweet tooth. This can be changed by replacing sugary desserts with fresh fruit, or fruit and yogurt-based desserts. Consuming less refined sugar will readjust your taste preferences so that you find natural sweetness more satisfying.

What are the dangers of added sugars?
Added sugar consumption contributes to weight gain and obesity.  More than 60% of the global disease will be associated with obesity by 2020. In addition to extra calories, excess sugar elevates cholesterol imbalance and deregulates the body’s insulin response so that it takes more insulin to balance blood glucose. Excess sugar also promotes visceral and intrahepatic fat deposition and increases triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Sugary treats displace nutrient-dense healthy foods, so vitamin and mineral intake is compromised.

How can we take control of added sugar intake?

  • Carefully read food labels when choosing foods!
  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. Water is the best choice, but stevia-sweetened carbonated beverages are also acceptable.
  • Substitute stevia for regular sugar in recipes, or try using 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce in place of 1 cup of sugar. Adding almond and vanilla extract or spices, like ginger and cinnamon will add flavor without sugar.
  • Have fresh fruit for dessert.
  • Don’t keep sugary sweets at home! If you don’t have it, you can’t eat it!

If you love sweets,  consider taking some important steps to control your sweet tooth to improve your oral health and to avoid systemic disease.