The arrival of spring means the return of a busy social calendar. Spring break trips, holidays, baseball games, parties and a dozen other events bring a lot of fun — and sugary snacks.
If you don’t watch how much sugar you’re eating, you could be in for trouble.
How Much Is Too Much?
Let’s start with how much sugar is too much for the average person. The specific amount that’s healthy for you depends on your total daily intake of calories.
On average, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for men. Women and kids should limit added sugar intake to 25 grams (6 teaspoons) daily. Sugars in milk and fruit don’t count toward the limit.
Keep in mind that the daily limit may be different for people with certain health conditions like diabetes.
Now take a look at the sugar in these snacks:
- 12-ounce soft drink: 39 grams
- Five marshmallow chicks: 34 grams
- An average chocolate bar: 24 grams
- Solid chocolate bunny (1.5 ounces): 23 grams
- Brownie (typical serving): 15 grams
- Chocolate chip cookies (two, store-bought): 12 grams
As you can see, these treats pack a sugary punch. A full-size chocolate bar can eat up a woman’s or child’s daily limit, and way more than half of a man’s. A can of regular cola goes beyond the limit for everyone.
For some people, limiting sugar is a matter of life and death. Those with diabetes — a disease in which the body has trouble processing sugar — must keep a close watch on their blood sugar levels. If not, they could face serious health problems, including blindness and kidney failure.
The number of people with diabetes topped 422 million worldwide in 2014, according to the World Health Organization. That’s about 8.5 percent of the population.
Even people who don’t have diabetes should limit the amount of sugar they eat. Too much sugar can cause you to gain weight. That, in turn, can contribute to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other illnesses.
Too much sugar also can lead to tooth decay and up-and-down energy levels.
Cut Back on Sugar Without Cutting Back on Fun
Obviously there are plenty of reasons to give up or cut down on sugar. The hard part is figuring out how to do that without feeling left out of the party. The American Diabetes Association has a few easy ideas.
Ask before eating. Don’t be afraid to ask the party host or your restaurant waiter what’s in your food. If it’s not part of your healthy eating plan, just say “no thank you” and find something else.
Plan ahead. If you’re able, ask the host ahead of time what foods will be served. Look up the nutrition information on labels or online and make a plan. There are carb counting smartphone apps and websites to make this easier. Find out which ones your health care provider recommends.
BYO. You’re sure to have something healthy to eat if you bring your own dish to share. Check out these diabetic-friendly recipes from Eating Well. You can find healthy options for every meal and dessert.
You also can take your favorite recipes and try to slim them down. Try using skim milk instead of whole, sweetening with fruit instead of only sugar or substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream. It may take a few tries to get it right, but it will be worth it.
Focus on the Fun. Try to focus on celebrating the person or event, not the food. Help a kid collect eggs in the annual Easter egg hunt. Dance at a graduation party. Clock 10,000 steps a day seeing the sites over spring break.
With a little planning, you can keep your sugar intake in check and still enjoy all the fun that spring brings.
Sources: Sugar 101, American Heart Association, 2016; Diabetes Fact Sheet, World Health Organization, 2016; Food & Fun, American Diabetes Association, 2014; Healthy Diabetic Recipes, Eating Well, 2017; Diabetes Management: How Lifestyle, Daily Routine Affect Blood Sugar, Mayo Clinic, 2014