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How much sugar is too much?

Photo by Carioca via Wikimeida Commons

Ahh, the pffft ... the cold against your fingers, the cool spray of the mist, the liquid pouring over ice. No, this isn't a winter's day at Lake Superior. This is the mouthwatering sound of a soda can opening. Hard to resist.

If you were offered a drink described as 12 teaspoons of sugar, some chemicals, vegetable oil and yellow No. 5 in soda water, you might turn it down. Doesn't sound very appetizing and wow, is that a lot of sugar! Dress it up in a can with a pretty label, call it Mountain Dew and that changes the game!

We know soda is a sugar bomb of empty calories with no redeeming qualities. Although Americans have cut down on their soda consumption — Go U.S.! — this is information worth repeating. Large sodas are all too accessible, convenient and refillable.

I'm not trying to soda-shame here. It is about awareness. If you are going to reach for a soda, know what contract you are agreeing to when it, or any sugary food, enters your body. Is it a decision or a habit?

Sweet coffee drinks have a little more substance, but still pack in the sugar. And to be fair, even healthy-sounding foods like the salads at restaurant chains have 50 to 60-plus grams of sugar. Some of that comes from fruit, but dried fruit, dressing and meat coatings can be carriers as well.

Perfect information is not so easily at our fingertips. To what amount should we limit our sugar intake? How much is in what we eat? I'll focus on added sugars here, meaning the sugars and syrups added to processed or prepared foods, not sugars naturally in milk or fruit.

Nutrition labels provide the "% daily value" column, letting us know how a serving fits into our overall daily needs. Sugar, however, is not filled in. The guide for quick calculation and awareness is not provided for us.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons/25 grams for women, 9 teaspoons/37.5 grams for men and kids 3-4 teaspoons a day. For easy conversion, one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams.

One can of soda pretty much decimates our added sugar intake for the day. For kids it is over 200 percent. This is one place where not hitting 100 percent is to our great advantage.

Sugar finds its way, unsuspected, into ketchup, bread, soups, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, instant oatmeal, flavored non-dairy milks and flavored yogurt. One or two of these might be OK but when we go through an entire day of eating they add up really quick, especially since we often overshoot the one-serving size.

After all of that is said and potential self-nagging has begun, I suggest letting yourself take a no-self-judgment approach. Consider it a mindful practice or food meditation. Take a few random, but typical, days this week to keep a running total of your sugar grams and see how you are doing.

Judy Breuer

Judy Breuer is a health coach/consultant who advocates for those with food sensitivity and allergies and teaches classes. Connect with her on Facebook or WellnessRen.com.

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