Picture the grocery store as your very own real-life Candyland game. Here are 5 Sweet Steps to navigate your way through the aisles.
– Sugar is for treats
– Add your own sugar to drinks
– Buy food with short ingredient lists. Five or less is best; more than 10, think again
– Avoid food with fake colors
– Join the “ONE” club
1) Sugar is for Treats
Candyland is honest. Peppermint Forest, Lollipop Woods and Chocolate Swamp sound like what they are: sweet treats. Imagine a new version of Candyland with the following highlights:
- Syrupy Yogurt Springs
- Gummy Gushers
- Monster Muffins
- Bad Breakfast
For adults and kids, try to limit sugary foods to the dessert/treat category, instead of having them infiltrate breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Sugar is for treats, NOT for:
- Oatmeal with candy dinosaurs
- Yogurt with cookie topping
- Muffin/scone at coffee shop
- Frozen yogurt with sweet toppings
- Fruit gummies
- Granola bars
- Frozen waffles/French toast sticks/pancakes
Here are two examples of before/after sugar makeovers for a sample adult and child.
- Caramel macchiato, reduced-fat coffee cake
- Yoplait yogurt
- 2 cookies
Estimated added teaspoons sugar: 21
- Unsweetened latte, add 1 tsp. sugar
- Whole-wheat toast w/ peanut butter and thin spread fruit preserve
- Triscuits or nuts as snack
- 2 small cookies
Estimated added teaspoons sugar: 3-4
- 2 chocolate chip Eggo waffles
- Graham crackers
- Fruit Gusher pack, Trix yogurt, carrots
- String cheese
- Small frappucino after school
- 5 Hershey kisses
Estimated added teaspoons sugar: 11
- 2 Van’s 8 whole-grain waffles w/ 1 tsp syrup
- Dry Cheerios
- 4 oz yogurt (no fake colors), carrots, apple, 1 Hershey kiss
- string cheese
- water, fruit, turkey slice, Triscuits after school
- 2 Hershey kisses
Estimated added teaspoons sugar: 4 1/2
Here is a great list of the teaspoons of added sugar in various foods:
If you have something like frozen yogurt, count it toward your dessert quota for the day. For kids who are used to sugary cereal, you can compromise by mixing it with a plainer cereal, having it for dessert, or choosing just 1-2 days a week to have it.
3) Add your own sugar to drinks
We may not consider a vanilla latte, caramel macchiato or lemonade a sugary treat, but these drinks often have more sugar than cookies or candy. Here are the teaspoons of added sugar in some popular offending drinks:
- Grande Starbucks Caramel Macchiato OR Vanilla Latte = 4 teaspoons
- Medium white chocolate mocha = 9 teaspoons
- Venti Starbucks Java Chip Frappucino = 18.5 teaspoons
It’s so easy to reduce your sugar from drinks: Order a plain latte or plain tea/coffee and sweeten it yourself. If you order flavoring, ask them for half (or even less) of the flavoring.
For kids, do not buy any drink with sugar added to it. If you buy juice boxes, get only 100% juice with nothing added. Trader Joe’s also sells juice boxes that are half juice/half water.
NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg was raked over the coals for his proposal to limit beverage sizes. His actions were actually revolutionary—he was challenging the commonly accepted viewpoint that we should have unlimited access to massive quantities of sugar. He attempted to actually change our environment so that automatic access to sugar was a little more difficult. Right now the case is tied up in court, but just remember that whatever the outcome, what is good for the soda industry is NOT good for your health!
3) Buy food with short ingredients lists
Here is important information:
Recommended daily ADDED sugar limit
- Women-6 teaspoons
- Men—9 teaspoons
- Kids—4 teaspoons depending on age
(Most American adults consume 23 teaspoons of added sugar daily.)
More useful information:
4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon
Here is incredibly UNHELPFUL AND ANNOYING INFORMATION
The grams of sugar on the food label are for total sugar, not added sugar
1 cup milk = 13 grams sugar (or about 3 tsp.)
This is naturally occurring sugar, nothing that a food company has added. A cup of chocolate milk has 26 grams sugar but it doesn’t differentiate between the natural milk sugar (lactose) and the added flavoring.
What would be VERY HELPFUL on the food label:
Teaspoons of added sugar: X
Don’t hold your breath, because food companies would fight this one with billions of dollars.
The longer the food ingredient list, the more likely it will contain multiple sources of sugar. ALL of the following are sources of ADDED SUGAR (I will explain added versus natural sugar grams in my “Anti-Rule #6.”
- Non-GMO glucose
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Organic malt syrup
- Organic non-gmo brown sugar in the raw
- Sugar cane juice
The more you see of these ingredients, the more added sugar a product contains.
FIVE OR LESS IS BEST
This goes for any processed food, including cereal, crackers, bread, oatmeal, granola bars, chips, flavored coffee creamer, drinks, fruit snacks (gummies), protein bars, yogurt and frozen foods. You do not have to include vitamins and minerals in your count (these are listed separately on cereal boxes, which is fine). One-ingredient foods are true winners: fruit/vegetables/beans/nuts/lentils/milk/chicken/fish/meat. Do NOT worry about any sugar in one-ingredient foods. Ignore anyone who tells you carrots are high in sugar.
MORE THAN 10, THINK AGAIN
Once you’re over 10 ingredients the likelihood goes way up that the food will contain many added sugars. Only buy a food with more than 10 ingredients if you would find most of them in your own kitchen, and you can pronounce everything.
4) Avoid food with fake colors.
If a food has a fake color it also generally has a lot of added sugar. Most food marketed to kids also contains fake colors. These colors (red/blue/yellow/green) generally indicate a junky food.
Food dyes also make junky food very exciting compared to real food.
In the battle of Fruit by the Foot vs. an Apple, the apple loses.
5) Join the ONE Club.
Anything you make in your own kitchen, from scratch, is 100% totally and completely great. They result from one-ingredient foods. If you happen to make muffins or cookies or bread, freeze the extras. There’s a cute idea for chocolate balls here:
I love the “Mom 100 Cookbook” by Katie Workman—lots of great ideas including delicious make-it-yourself pancakes. Jessica Seinfeld also has a cute new “Can’t Cook Book: Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified.”
6) Anti- Rule #6
Grams of Sugar on Food Label
Notice I do not include counting the grams of sugar on the food label as an easy rule. These sugar grams on the food label:
- Are not telling you what you really need to know
- Require advanced math to understand what they’re really saying. You have to compare an unsweetened product (like plain Cheerios/plain yogurt/plain bread/plain milk) with the sweetened product, but convert the ounces so your math is accurate.
Like this completely annoying example:
8 oz. plain Mountain High yogurt = 12 g sugar (which means there are 3 g naturally occurring sugar, or lactose, in every 2 ounces)
6 oz Yoplait low-fat flavored yogurt = 27 grams total sugar (which means 18 g added sugar or 4 ½ teaspoons of added sugar in that little yogurt)
4 oz Trix yogurt = 13 grams total sugar = 7 g added sugar or almost 2 teaspoons added sugar
1 regular 2 ounce Go-Gurt = 9 grams total sugar or 6 g added sugar which is 1 ½ teaspoons
WHO HAS THE TIME FOR THIS?
Food companies should have to disclose the number of added teaspoons of sugar in their products! The sugar molecule itself is not evil (in isolation), nor does it cause diabetes, fatigue, obesity or food addiction. The problem is food companies, and our own acceptance of a grocery store that looks like Candyland. I count 57 different candy bars at the checkout line of my local store. Within 5 miles of my house I can access more than 50,000 sweetened products, most under a buck per serving. Dessert may look like Candy Crush, but try to make the rest of your day look like Farmville!