Do you know how much sugar is in your diet?

You may be surprised to find out how much sugar you're eating and drinking every day.  

“I really don’t think most of us are aware of how much sugar we’re consuming in a day,” says Gaiana Brooker, Registered Nurse with the Diabetes Education Centre at the Misericordia Community Hospital. “I think we’d all be surprised if we did some research into our daily intake.”

Centre staff recommend people consume no more than 14 teaspoons of sugar a day, less if you’re trying to lose weight or are diabetic. We’re eating far more than that. The average Canadian ingests a staggering 88 pounds of sugar a year, according to Statistics Canada 2004 data, the latest figure. That's equal to 26 teaspoons a day. 

If you want to understand how much sugar you consume, read product labels and ask about the sugar load before you place an order, particularly when it comes to beverages. A can of Coke contains 42 grams or 10 teaspoons of sugar. And you might want to think twice about ordering your favourite specialty coffee. For example, a grande caramel macchiato with two per cent milk contains eight teaspoons of sugar, and you'll swallow 13 teaspoons of sugar when you drink a white chocolate mocha. 

How do you know how much sugar is in your food? On most food labels, sugar content is stated in grams, with four grams equal to a teaspoon. Sugar is added to many foods such as ketchup, tomato sauce, salad dressing, breads and cereals, including the healthier options.

Excessive sugar consumption is linked to a range of health risks including weight gain, dental cavities and kidney damage, and is a factor in diabetes and heart disease.

Benedikte Wanek, Registered Dietitian with the centre, and Gaiana offer six tips to a more balanced sugar approach.

Avoid fruit juice. It is better to eat your fruit than to drink it. Fruit contains fibre, which suppresses your appetite for a longer time.

Check food labels for added sugars. A serving should have five to six grams or less of added sugars. The new Canada Food Guide should help distinguish added versus natural sugars.

Avoid or limit flavoured coffees. This includes drinks such as a latte, macchiato or frappuccino. Most places list the calorie and sugar counts in these drinks. Not only are these drinks often laden with sugar, but their calorie count can equal that of a small meal. 

Save sweet drinks for a treat. Soft drinks, electrolyte drinks and energy drinks are loaded with sugar.

Exercise. Go for a walk after you eat. A study of people with diabetes showed that walking 10 minutes after a meal lowered their blood sugar more than when they walked at any other time.

Follow the Canada Food Guide. Current popular diets that ban sugar or carbohydrates aren’t recommended. “In our diabetes centre, our approach is healthy eating and we do say everything in moderation," says Gaiana. "We do believe that healthy eating is the best approach.”

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