Welcome to our Ask the Expert series, in which our panel of health experts answers your wellness questions. Here, registered dietitian Matt Priven unravels your sweet tooth. Got a question of your own? Email [email protected].
How much sugar should I be eating? Is it okay to have dessert every day?—A.F., Boston
Have your cake and eat it, too. The more important thing is getting added sugar out of your meals and snacks.
“If you spend all day avoiding added sugar but you have something sweet to satisfy the sweet tooth at night, the intake is still going to be really low,” Priven says. “Most importantly, you won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself.”
Don’t let the promise of dessert distract you from the meat of that sentence, though: The goal here is slashing most sources of added sugar from your diet. “There have been studies that show that individuals who consume the most added sugar have an increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, compared to individuals who consume the least added sugar,” Priven says. “Markers of inflammation are also higher for those who consume the most added sugar.”
Food manufacturers add sugar to nearly every product imaginable, under names ranging from cane sugar and molasses to dextrose and glucose, so cutting back on packaged snacks and processed foods will automatically lower your intake. Priven also says you should toss sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, such as energy drinks, coffee drinks, and sweetened teas.
If you eliminate added sugars from the majority of your diet, Priven says your nightly cookie shouldn’t push you over the American Heart Association’s recommendations of no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar per day for men, and six teaspoons per day for women. (Priven says natural sugars, such as those found in fruits, don’t count toward these numbers.)
Of course, it’s still a good idea to eat dessert in moderation. Priven notes that there are plenty of ways to satisfy a sweet tooth without downing a tub of ice cream or eating a sleeve of cookies. Sometimes a piece of fruit, a lightly sweetened yogurt, a square of dark chocolate, flavored seltzer, kombucha, or a homemade low-sugar treat will do the trick. (Need ideas? Try our avocado chocolate mousse or nice cream.)
The moral of the story? Eliminate sugar where you can, but don’t drive yourself crazy. “The overall lesson,” Priven says, “is to try to reduce one’s intake of added sugar to an amount that’s reasonable and sustainable and doesn’t make you feel deprived.”
About the Expert: Matt Priven is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Oceanside Nutrition. As an RDN, Matt is an expert in the areas of food and nutrition. He holds a M.S. in nutrition and health promotion. Passionate about research, he is a published author in multiple scientific journals, including the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having trained and worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Matt helped thousands of individuals before opening a private practice. At Oceanside Nutrition, Matt provides individual nutrition counseling in Boston and Newburyport for a variety of health concerns.
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