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Hit the Mark!

two cubes

February is heart month, and one of the best ways to bolster your heart’s health is to moderate what you eat. You’ve probably heard that eating more veggies and fruits, and cutting back on unhealthy fats (like fried foods) is an important way to keep your heart fit. But you may be surprised to learn that one of the top tips for protecting your ticker is to curb your intake of sugar.

Currently the average adult takes in a whopping 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily, an amount that snowballs into the equivalent of more than 14 four-pound sacks of sugar per person each year! All that sweet stuff has been tied to an increased risk of heart disease, which is why the American Heart Association has set daily targets for how much we should consume. The cap is no more than six level teaspoons for women, and nine for men – that’s for both food and beverages combined. The guidelines are strict compared to what most Americans eat, but definitely doable.

Tip #1

Cut back on sugary drinks. Nearly 40 percent of the added sugar in our diets comes from sweet drinks, like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, and sports drinks. Just one 12-ounce can of regular cola contains about 140 calories, all from over nine teaspoons of added sugar.

Tip #2

Trade sugary goodies for fresh fruit. About a quarter of most adults’ sugar intake comes from baked goods, candy, and dairy-based desserts like ice cream and frozen yogurt. Make these once in a while treats (birthdays, holidays, special occasions) and reach for fruit instead. Twenty two gummy bears pack 33 grams of sugar - over 8 teaspoons worth – compared to a mere 7 grams in a cup of fresh strawberries, which provide naturally occurring sugar, bundled with water, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Tip #3

Scope out sugar in packaged foods. In addition to products like sweetened cereal and cookies, sugar can lurk in many foods that don’t even seem sweet, including crackers, salad dressing, soup, and tomato sauce. To find it, become an avid label reader, but make the ingredient list your first stop. Look for words including: brown sugar; maltose; fructose; dextrose; sucrose; corn syrup; and malt syrup. And keep in mind that the higher up these terms are on the ingredient list, the more sugar per bite.