KIND, makers of a range of health conscious fruit and nut bar snacks, threw together a massive pile of sugar that weighed nearly 50,000 pounds in Times Square to demonstrate how much sugar American children consume every five minutes. The 24-foot tall mountain of sugar bags is a stark reminder that the average American diet really is padded with a bit too much corn syrup, dextrose, and plain old sugar, but a few simple changes to your eating habits is an excellent way to sidestep extra helpings of the sweet stuff.
A few children made of white sugar were placed around the sugar pyramid to emphasize KIND’s estimation that the average nine-year-old kid eats their weight in sugar each year. The American Heart Association recommends that kids consume no more than 100 calories of sugar each day, but the average kid consumes around 270 calories of added sugars per day, and most of that is from drinking sodas.
What is “added sugar”? Simply put, added sugar is the sugar that is put into processed foods and drinks to improve flavor, texture, shelf life, and of course, sweetness. For Americans, the majority of this added sugar comes in the form of sodas, candy, donuts, cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream, and other sugary desserts.
You may already be thinking “Mountain Dew is awesome — why should I care about ‘added sugar’ in the first place?” Well, you’re right that it tastes great, but a diet that includes too much sugar may increase the risk of heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol in the body. It’s all about moderation. Don’t think that you need to cut all sugary snacks from your life, but it’s a good idea to reevaluate what you’re consuming so you don’t have to feel like you’re ruining your health whenever you indulge in the occasional soda.
The first step to avoid eating or drinking more sugar than you’d like is by reading the ingredient lists on food labels. All of the following ingredients are considered “added sugar,” so keep an eye out for them, and compare with similar products to discover healthier alternatives: agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt sugar, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
Now the obvious sugar monsters in your pantry are the triple fudge cookies and energy drinks, but that’s just it — if you want to cut the added sugars that leech into your diet that you aren’t aware of, you’ll need to do some research and buy alternatives to your common household staples.
Chocolate – Concerned chocoholics don’t have to give up cocoa if they’re afraid of its high sugar content. Just switch over to dark chocolate! Dark chocolate generally contains half the sugar that milk chocolate does, as well as four times the iron.
Dried Fruit – Yes, it’s still fruit, but more often than not, dried fruits are loaded with sugar to make the dehydrated pineapple and apricot pieces tastier, and to extend the snack’s shelf life, so it’s better to go for fresh fruit instead.
Ketchup – Yeah, I like ketchup on my fries too, but it also contains 7 grams of sugar with each serving. Swap out ketchup for salsa for a healthier alternative when you can. Every little bit helps!
Peanut Butter – Don’t get me wrong, peanut butter is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, but most of the big brands are also loaded with sugar as well. You’ll get all of the benefits without the sugar dragging your otherwise healthy snack if you buy a natural peanut butter spread that contains little more than peanuts and salt.
Breakfast Cereals – Too many cereal boxes overshadow the health benefits of fiber and whole grains with a boatload of sugar. Be on the lookout for cereals that have very low amounts of added sugar. Believe it or not, some cereal brands that sport zero added sugar are actually decent! (Even if your box of healthier cereal turns out to be twig-flavored, drop some chopped fruit into the bowl for that extra sweetness!)
There are many other simple shortcuts to cut down on your sugar intake outside of dessert time, so take a moment to compare fruit juices, salad dressings, sliced bread, yogurt, granola, and other common foods during your next trip to the grocery store, especially if you’re concerned about the high levels of sugar that your kids are eating.
The team at KIND provided a few startling facts that were placed around the looming sugar pile in Times Square:
Children in the US are eating 4.7 billion pounds of added sugar every year. That would cover 1,740 football fields.
Children in the US are eating 13.1 million pounds of added sugar every day. That would fill 273 yellow school buses.
If that’s all true, and my fellow Americans still want to indulge in cake, ice cream, and candy bars, it would do everyone some good to take a closer look at their caloric intake to figure out ways to shave off the added sugar from non-desserts wherever they can.