How to Cut the Sugar and Sweets from Your Diet

bag of sugarThe American Heart Association recently released recommendations for added sugars – and they say “slash slash slash” it way down. According to their position paper, the usual intake of added sugars for Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories per day) in 2001-2004. American Heart Association would like to see American women consume no more than 100 calories per day and men no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars. Why? Excessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients.

Translation: Basically, Americans are overdrawing the “calorie funds” in their “discretionary calories” bank account. Discretionary calories are what’s left over in the budget AFTER you have prioritized healthy, nourishing foods to meet nutrient needs (the ole fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans). While your bank would charge you an overdraft fee, unfortunately your body can’t do that.

So, what does this have to do with the diligent dieter? I’ve got some tips for how you can respond to the advice, if you need to.

  • Take inventory – write down what you eat for a few days on’s free tracker. This food journal tool will tell you how many “discretionary calories” you are over/under budget.
  • Remember balance and moderation – the advice of 100 calories a day for women doesn’t equate to “never drink juice or soda or ever eat a candy bar,” but it does mean moderation. Some people love their juice. OK, so either have 100 percent juice with no added sugar or have a cup (eight ounce) of the sweetened stuff a few times a week. One cup of sweetened O.J. is 30 “discretionary calories.”  Like chocolate? Two Hershey’s miniatures with almonds has 74 discretionary calories. So it fits in the budget as a sometimes treat.
  • Read and understand food labels – bypass all the marketing on the front of package and look at the nutrition facts and ingredients to hunt down added sugars. Be sure to watch my video on moderating sugar intake for a refresher on this.

The bottom line is pick your favorites and spend calories wisely. Portion control is always the number one thing you can do to eat more healthily. Don’t fool yourself and think that a daily sweet tea beverage or milkshake is a a good idea. But also be careful of foods that appear to have a “health halo.”

A small eight ounce fruit flavored low-fat yogurt has 108 “discretionary calories,” which puts it over the budget. You’re better off trying plain (no added sugars) low-fat yogurt or my personal fave, plain fat-free Greek yogurt and add your own fresh fruit. Try adding 1/4 cup of blueberries and a tablespoon of raw slivered almonds to a cup of Greek yogurt. MMMmmm…

Hopefully, this post help to put the AHA’s quick advice into perspective. Changes are individual so find out where you stand on discretionary calories with My Pyramid and think of changing the portion or frequency of your “treats” or find a healthier swap out.

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