Sugar seems to be the bad guy these days. Everywhere you look there are articles about avoiding soda or skipping the glazed donut. But really how bad is sugar?

Americans consume nearly three times the amount of added sugar that we should and all of that extra sugar contributes to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. But sugar alone isn’t harmful to our bodies, instead it’s the amount of sugar we consume on a daily basis. The problem behind all of this? That extra sugar adds calories but no nutrients.

What is added sugar?

Added sugar isn’t the natural sugars found in fruit or plain milk. It’s the stuff that’s added into the food we eat, mostly processed foods. And it goes by many different names, including: agave nectar, cane sugar, blackstrap molasses, corn syrup and glucose.

What can we do about it?

One way is to limit sugary beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages are drinks like regular soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice drinks and sweetened coffees and teas.

The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day and men no more than 9 teaspoons a day. A 20-ounce bottle of coke has just over 16 teaspoons of sugar. You can see how just one of these beverages a day puts you way over the recommendations. Replacing these beverages with better-for-you drinks can be an effective way to reduce added sugar in your diet. Here are some ideas for better-for-you beverage replacements:

  • Like carbonation? Try a sparkling water.
  • Need caffeine? Try a black coffee or unsweetened tea.
  • Add a little flavor to your water by adding fresh fruit.

Remember that we all can enjoy a treat every once in a while. Allow yourself to have the occasional fancy coffee drink or favorite soda. It can actually make it more special and enjoyable when we limit these drinks to special occasions rather than every day.

This article was written by Park Nicollet dietitian Gina Houmann MPH, RDN, LD.