The average American consumes about three pounds of sugar each week according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That sounds like we are eating a lot of candy, cookies and cake. But in fact, a growing portion of that sugar is consumed as liquid. That’s because a typical 20-ounce can of soda has about 250 calories, all from sugar. Sports drinks, energy drinks and even a similarly sized serving of fruit juice obtain just as many of their calories from sugar.
And most of us drink them down without a second thought. The USDA reports that Americans consume 38.6 pounds of added sugar in these drinks each year. When you compare these containers to other high-calorie treats, it’s easy to see that we may need to reconsider our consumption of this liquid sugar.
So what can you do to help your children — and yourself — dial back the amount of sugar you are consuming in your beverages?
Read nutrition labels: The World Health Organization’s updated nutrition guidelines recommend that sugar account for less than 5% of your total daily calories. For an adult with normal body mass index, that would be around 25 grams of sugar, or about six teaspoons, per day.
Do the math: A gram of sugar contains four calories. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar. So if you drink a soda that contains 62 grams of sugar, you would be consuming 248 calories and 15½ teaspoons of sugar.
Visualize the sugar: Fill an empty drink container with granulated sugar so it’s easy to see how much sugar you are really ingesting.
Don’t be fooled: Many drink packages are imprinted with pictures of real fruit. But a quick look at the label reveals that these drinks are comprised of 5% juice and the other 95% is water, sugar, corn syrup or other artificial sweeteners.
Limit fruit juice: Ounce for ounce, fruit juice contains the same calories as soda. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than four to six ounces of juice per day for children younger than age six. Better yet, eat the apple, orange or berries, instead of just drinking their juice.
Calculate the burn off: A recent study by the Arizona State University Healthy Lifestyles Research Center reported that the average American would need to spend four hours in vigorous exercise each day to burn off the extra sugar they consume.
Enjoy in moderation: Limiting your serving size is a great way to cut down on calories. Don’t drink straight out of the bottle or can. Instead, pour the drink into a smaller glass.
Expand your options: Serve water and low-fat or non-fat plain milk to children. Replace your soda with iced tea. Set a good example by drinking plenty of water yourself.
Treat drinks like candy: Very few of us would eat 10 cookies or five snack cakes every single day. Treat sugar-filled drinks the same way and enjoy them as a once-in-a-while treat.
Avoid the upgrades: Adding flavored syrup or creamers to your coffee or tea ratchets up the sugar content quickly. Coffee drinkers can doctor up their drink with natural flavors, such as cinnamon and swap out the sugar-infused creamers for low-fat milk. Tea drinkers can add slices of citrus fruit, such as lemon, lime and orange, to boost the flavor of their favorite beverage.
Eliminating liquid sugar from your diet takes a little planning. However, you can reap terrific long-term health benefits from your efforts, which can give you a leg up in the battle against obesity.