Imagine 16 teaspoons of sugar lined up in front of you. Sugar-shocked? Well, that's roughly how much added sugar the average Canadian gobbles up each day from prepared or packaged foods. And each of those teaspoons of sugar contains 15 calories. That means that Canadians consume 240 empty calories worth of sugar each day - calories that do nothing for you since they contain no nutritional value.

Sugar offers no nutritional benefits, but it does put your body in danger. If you pass on nourishing fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains in favour of sweet treats, your diet will lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre. And if your diet overflows with sugar, you're more likely to be overweight and to have high triglyceride levels. These factors put you at risk for heart disease, and leave you more vulnerable to diabetes and certain cancers.

The Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation recommends reducing your added sugar intake to less than 10% of total daily calories. For an average 2000-calorie diet, that’s 48 grams or 12 teaspoons of sugar. For perspective, one can of pop contains 10 teaspoons of sugar!

Shaking sugar out of your diet can be bittersweet, but it's not impossible:

Stop the pop. As mentioned, 12 ounces of pop can contain 10 teaspoons of sugar, so you'd exceed the recommended limit when you gulp back one can. Instead, perk up a glass of water with a twist of lemon or lime, a handful of berries, or a sprig of fresh mint.

Think before you sweeten. Next time you brew or buy yourself a coffee, hold off on sugaring it. Give it a taste first to test whether or not you really need the extra teaspoonful of empty calories. Doesn't it taste fine as it is? If your drink needs a flavour boost, consider cinnamon, vanilla, or cocoa.

Know where sugar hides. Think beyond the sugar bowl, beyond the cookie jar, and even beyond the pastry cart. Natural sugars show up in otherwise healthy foods like dairy products and fruits. But added sugar lurks in so many prepared foods and hides behind so many aliases, it can get tricky.

  • sugar hides in pretty packages: Prepared and packaged foods often contain sugar to enhance flavour. Check the labels of flavoured yogurts, ice cream, ready-to-eat cereal, bags of chips, cookies, cakes, candies, and waffles.
  • sugar goes by several aliases: Check food labels and look out for ingredients with the word "syrup" or those ending in -ose, which indicate added sugars like sucrose, maltose, glucose, fructose, and dextrose. And just because a sugar is "natural" doesn't make it any less sweet.
  • you might be sipping on sugar: Pop may be the worst sugar offender, but the sweet stuff hides in juices, fruit juice concentrate, sports drinks, and in alcohol.
  • they're called "extras" for a reason: Condiments and add-ons spill over with sugar. This includes jams, jellies, salad dressings, ketchup, and flavoured syrups added to coffee drinks.
  • make sense of sugar code words: If you're trying to cut out sugar, you're probably on the lookout for words like "reduced," "free," and "low." But "free" doesn't always mean free, and "low" has no meaning at all! "Reduced" means that a product contains at least 25% less sugars per serving than a comparable product. "Low" sugar is not defined by an exact amount, but is associated with a "very small amount." In the US, "no added sugars" or "without added sugars" indicates a product in which no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient (juice, dry fruit) is added during processing. A Canadian product labelled "sugar-free" contains an insignificant amount of sugar, while in the US it means it may contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving.

Amy Toffelmire