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Sure, we expect to find sugar in things like soft drinks, candy and cookies, but the sweet stuff can be pretty sneaky. Or, more accurately, food manufactures can be pretty sneaky about adding it in places we wouldn’t expect to see it—and then cleverly disguising it as something “wholesome” or “good for you.” Here are some of the top culprits:

  1. Breakfast cereal (hot and cold): Bite for bite, most “healthy” cereals have as much sugar as their fruity and frosted counterparts. And even if you choose a low-sugar cereal, remember that starchy carbohydrates like grains break down into sugar into the digestive tract. The best choices? Keep it simple and choose plain, whole-seed cereals made from chia, and you can always top them with your favorite low-sugar fruits.
  2. Pre-packaged fruit: With so much natural sweetness of its own, it’s baffling why food manufacturers think it’s necessary to add sugar to fruit. While it is always better to choose fresh, raw, low-sugar fruits, the convenience of “to-go” portions and packaging is sometimes hard to pass up. Be sure to check the ingredients for added sugar, and steer clear of phrases like “in light syrup” or “made with real fruit”.
  3. Cereal bars, granola bars, protein bars: They’re the perfect “healthy” snack for tossing in a purse or backpack, right? Not if you consider the amount of added sugar hiding inside your average cereal bar or granola bar—up to 20 grams per bar. And yes, protein is a smart snacking option because it can help curb cravings and keep you satisfied during the day, but protein bars can have as much sugar as the average candy bar. Opt for a handful of raw nuts instead.
  4. Condiments: Always check your labels, even when it comes to your condiments! Some of the biggest offenders here are barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, salad dressing—yes, even the “healthy” organic varieties—which contain high amounts of added sugar. For your ribs, opt for a low-sugar (or no-sugar) dry rub instead. Use fresh tomatoes in your sauces and on your burgers, and try using just olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) atop your salads.
  5. Beverages: This is a big one, and it includes everything from milk (especially flavored milk) to fruit juice to energy drinks. That “healthy” grape juice your kids love with the added vitamins and “no added sugar”? Try 36 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. That sports drink you think is reviving you after your workout? At roughly 30 grams of sugar per bottle (or more), is it really worth it? And even if your favorite soft drinks and energy drinks are sugar free, that usually just means they’re made with artificial sweeteners, which are just as harmful to your body. The best choice is to drink plenty of pure, filtered water.
  6. Yogurt: Remember those granola bars we talked about? A single serving of flavored yogurt can be hiding more than twice the amount of added sugar than your average granola bar. And the less fat your yogurt contains (as with many “light” brands and flavors), the more sugar it is likely to pack per spoonful. Without the excess sugar, yogurt is actually an excellent source of protein—not to mention beneficial active cultures. Opt for plain, natural yogurt instead and add your own low-sugar fruit.

Can You Spot the Sweet Stuff?
Added sugars come in many forms, including sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, agave nectar, honey, fruit juice concentrates. Be sure to read the Supplement Facts labels on the products you buy to see how much sugar they contain, and always check the ingredients; the closer sugar is to the top of the list, the more sugar it’s going to have.

How Much Sugar Should You Eat?
You should be consuming no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar each day, and that means total sugars—including the pastas and breads you eat that are converted to sugar. Keep in mind that packaged foods are labeled according to grams of sugar and carbohydrates, not teaspoons. Use this quick sugar conversion formula to find out exactly how much total sugar is in your food:

Total grams of carbs – Total grams of fiber/5 = Total teaspoons of sugar

That’s the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber listed in the nutrition facts on a label, all divided by 5. This will give you the total teaspoons of sugar in a serving of that food. It’s important to take the total grams of carbs, not total grams of sugar when you are doing your conversion. That way, you are taking into account the sugars that break down from carbohydrates in addition to sugars themselves.

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Did you know February is American Heart Month? Boston.com recently challenged readers to cut the sugar in their breakfast for one week, in part because information from the American Heart Association reveals that excess sugar can contribute to obesity and heart disease, and we thought the challenge was a great idea.

The truth is, we can all benefit from reducing the amount of high-sugar foods we eat—in addition to high-carb foods, since carbohydrates turn to sugar in the digestive tract (a fact many experts miss when making recommendations about sugar). Are you up for the challenge? Get started today with Brenda Watson’s Love Your Heart Eating Plan—a simple way to eat healthfully and decrease your daily sugar intake. But why stop at breakfast?

Love Your Heart is an all-day plan that focuses on filling your plate with lean proteins and vegetables instead of typical comfort foods like breads, cereals and sweets. It teaches you how to make the right choices when it comes to food and helps you make positive changes in your diet that will ultimately empower you to take control of your body and your health. Just follow these three simple eating plan rules:

Rule 1: Track teaspoons of sugar
It all comes down to how much sugar is in your food—and not just natural and added sugars, but the sugar produced by the breakdown of carbohydrates in your body. You may not realize it, but even carbs from fruits and veggies break down into sugar in your digestive tract. (The only exception is fiber, which is a carbohydrate that resists digestion.) To track teaspoons of sugar, use this simple formula:

teaspoons of sugar = (total carbohydrates – dietary fiber) ÷ 5

Rule 2: Eat 6 to 8 teaspoons of sugar daily
Remember, these 6 to 8 teaspoons are coming from the formula in Rule 1. Don’t use grams of sugar as found on Nutrition Facts panels on food packaging, since those only account for natural and added sugars.

Rule 3: Eat 12 portions of lean protein daily
Protein is an important part of the Love Your Heart Eating Plan. Be sure to eat 12 portions of lean protein throughout the day to help keep your appetite satisfied. Opt for lean poultry, meat, seafood, low-fat cheese and yogurt, eggs, tofu, tempeh and nuts. Remember: eating protein at breakfast is essential to help you avoid carb cravings later, and studies show that a high-protein breakfast helps you feel full longer!

This month and throughout the year, make heart health a priority. With the Love Your Heart Eating Plan, you will learn what foods you can eat by simply tracking teaspoons of sugar. And, filling your plate with lean proteins and healthy veggies will not only have a positive effect on your heart, but it will help trim your waistline too!

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