Do you know whether you're eating too much sugar? These healthy bloggers thought they did—until we had them track their food for a week
Where Is Your Sugar Coming From?
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Sugar has become enemy number one in American nutrition—and rightly so, since the average American eats 83 grams of added sugar per day. That's nearly triple the recommended 30 grams, or 120 calories! If your mind jumps straight to sugary donuts and bags of candy, don’t think those are the only culprits. A lot of the problem comes from added sugars (sugars and syrups added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation) that lurk in foods you'd never expect.
That oversight can have serious consequences: According to a new study, sugar is far worse for your heart than salt. Researchers found that people whose diet is 10 to 25 percent added sugars are 30 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. If your sugar intake is more than 25 percent of your diet, your risk is tripled. And high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—the most common added sugar in processed foods—is the worst, ringing in as more toxic than table sugar, according to a new study from the University of Utah. HFCS reduced both fertility and lifespan in mice, and, while we're not furry rodents, the experts agree we should all be making an effort to limit added sugars.
But to eliminate them, you have to find them. Don't nix fruits and vegetables—these natural sources are where you want your sugar to be coming from. But sauces, dressings, breads, juices, and even "healthy" snacks like protein powders, green smoothies, granola and yogurt can all wreck your diet (and your health!) if you're not careful. (And don't forget these 50 Seemingly Healthy Foods that are Bad for You.) You could easily be OD'ing on the white stuff even if you think your diet is squeaky clean. To prove it, we asked seven health bloggers—pros at eating a nutritious diet—to record their food for a week. Find out how their sugar intake stacks up.
Photo: Corbis Images
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Katie Oxenreider of Fit Life by Katie
Food philosophy: Katie first started tracking what she ate as a way to figure out why she was always so hungry, even after a meal. Looking at her numbers, it quickly became clear she wasn't getting nearly enough protein. With a little trial and error, she found her magic ratio and now tries to eat between 160 to 180 carbs a day, 90 to 115 grams of protein, and 75 grams of fat each day. "My philosophy also works well with the fact that I never restrict myself foods. I just simply calculate it into my macros and go from there," she says. "Restriction would only make me go crazy and want those foods more!"
Sugar intake: She averaged 65 to 70 grams of sugar each day. While the majority of her sweet stuff comes from whole foods like fruit and dairy, she isn't afraid to treat herself. Peanut butter, cookies and the occasional glass of wine are her favorite indulgences. The biggest surprising source of added sugar in her diet is her daily sweetened Greek yogurt. Swapping it out for plain yogurt and adding her own sweeteners like berries or stevia could save her up to 25 grams a day of the evil added sugars without skimping on all the great protein in her favorite snack. (Love Greek yogurt too? Use the plain variety for these 10 Healthy Recipes Using Greek Yogurt.)
Photo: Katie Oxenreider
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Tasha Edwards, integrative health coach and personal trainer, Hip Healthy Chick
Food Philosophy: Tasha is all about her her "plant-based diet of freedom," or eating based on how it makes her body feel. Too much wheat and too few greens make her bloated and cranky. And, as a recovering sugar addict, she says she's had to learn the hard way how to find the balance between overindulging and feeling terrible, and getting caught in the obsession trap. This means she doesn't keep any sugar in the house and uses sweeteners like Stevia sparingly. "I basically eat whatever I want," she says. "And what I want is to be is healthy and energetic, as pain free as possible, while having a clear mind and clear skin—and still get mistaken for my teenage son's sister!"
Sugar intake: She averaged between 50 and 90 grams of sugar per day, the majority of it healthy and natural, coming from fruit in smoothies. As a busy mom and fitness instructor, she recognizes her weak spots are the cravings for simple carbs she gets after a tough workout. One day during our test week, she ended up eating spring rolls and cake after a HIIT workout—but instead of beating herself up over it, she recognized that she hadn't given her body enough time to recover from several intense workouts in a row. She made up for it the next day with extra protein and rest.
Photo: Tasha Edwards
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Adina Zilberman of Krasey Fit
Food philosophy: As a professional bodybuilder, Adina knows she has to eat clean healthy foods that will help her crush it in the gym. To keep things simple, she eats six small meals a day consisting of basically the same foods. She tries to keep her protein high with lots of eggs and meat to build all that muscle, and does some carb cycling, depending on what she has planned for the gym that day.
Sugar intake: Her willpower is as tough as her biceps—not a single treat passed her lips this week! Adina's overall sugar intake was quite low, averaging between 30 and 50 grams a day, with all of it coming from whole food sources like apples and dairy. The only added sugar she ate was a tiny bit in her Thai peanut dressing (yum!).
(Impressed with those low numbers? Try your own Taste of a Low-Sugar Diet.)
Photo: Adina Zilberman
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Katy Widrick of KatyWidrick.com
Food philosophy: "I eat to perform," Katy says. "I want to be a better mom, a better fitness instructor, a stronger, faster runner, a happier, more balanced person." In the past, she says she spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not something was "healthy," which not only didn't work (she gained weight instead of losing it), it sucked all the joy out of eating. Now the vegetarian mama eats a plant-based diet with the emphasis on eating a wide variety of colors and flavors. "I don't think of food as 'good' or 'bad', but I do try to limit my intake of sugars and processed foods because they don't make me feel great," she explains.
Sugar intake: Katy averaged between 30 and 85 grams of sugar a day. While some of the sugar came from fruit and dairy, she did have some sneaky added sugars in muffins and bagels. On the weekend, she enjoyed a glass of wine and some candy. But her favorite indulgence is her daily cup of coffee: She's not into drinking it black, so mixes in flavored creamers like pumpkin spice and French vanilla (even though they have about 10 grams of sugar per serving!). "I know some people will look at the fact that I use artificially-sweetened creamer and jump to judgement, but that's part of my moderation approach," she says, adding she hopes people will learn that you can still take joy in what you eat without blowing all your health goals. (You don't have to starve your sweet tooth! Try these 5 Desserts You Won’t Believe Are Sugar-Free.)
Photo: Katy Widrick
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Lora Hogan of Daily Southern Sunshine
Food philosophy: For years, Lora struggled with her body image, obsessing over every bite and every pound. "I was too skinny, unhappy, and and totally disconnected from my body," she says, "I would go days without eating to binge on a night out or try to scrape by with as few of calories as possible. It was no way to live!" Then she discovered yoga and the power of food to fuel and heal her body instead of punish it. She dropped calorie counting for a more mindful approach, focusing on eating slowly and only foods with ingredients she can pronounce. Now, she says, it's all about balance, enjoyment, and living life to the fullest. "I eat to live, not live to eat!"
Sugar intake: Even with the occasional dark chocolate truffle, she stays between 30 and 40 grams of sugar on most days—except for the night she had a margarita. (Yum! We'll take one of these 10 Skinny Margaritas for Guilt-Free Sipping, please.) The main sources of added sugars in her diet are the energy gels and Gu's she uses to re-fuel during her long runs. Yet while these are almost entirely made up of simple sugars, like candy, they serve a vital purpose to avoid that "bonk" all distance runners know. So on days when she has a long workout scheduled, she makes sure to eat a healthy meal or snack full of healthy carbs and protein before and after to balance out all the sugar.
Photo: Lora Hogan
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Hannah Sanderbrink of Hannah Speaks
Food philosophy: Rather than worry about calories or fat grams, Hannah is focused on eating foods that fight disease. Not only does her vegan, plant-based diet give her tight abs and a healthy glow, but she says it also helps her family feel good, knowing they are taking care of the environment as well as their bodies.
Sugar intake: At 150 to 250 grams of sugar a day, Hannah's is by far the highest intake of the bloggers we surveyed. However, the bulk comes from her high intake of fruit and veggies (about 15 servings a day) which also come with fiber and vitamins. To help mitigate the blood sugar spikes, she aims to eat 45 to 65 grams of fiber a day. Her only two sources of added sugars are in her daily Shakeology shake and her soy coffee creamer.
Photo: Hannah Sanderbrink
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Heather Gannoe, ACSM certified health fitness specialist, of Relentless Forward Commotion
Food philosophy: Heather grew up in a typical '80s household where Wonder bread and bologna were staples. And while she hasn't touched lunch meat in years, her biggest struggle is making healthy choices instead of reaching for processed comfort foods she grew up with. A vegetarian for two years, she no longer counts calories but instead strives to get a variety of fruits veggies, whole grains, and proteins everyday, while listening to her body's natural hunger cues. "Not everyday is perfect, as I could see by my food journal," she says, "But I try to make good choices more often than not!"
Sugar intake: About half of Heather's 50 to 70 grams of daily sugar was from a healthy variety of fruits and veggies, but her reliance on vegan protein bars made up the other half. Meal replacement and snack bars can't be beat for portability and convenience and aren't always unhealthy—but be sure to check the ingredients list and sugar content since some have just as much sugar as a candy bar! (Cheat sheet: Best and Worst Nutrition Bars for Women.)
Photo: Heather Gannoe