By Angela Davis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s increasing evidence that us Americans have too much sugar in our diets — and it’s making us sick.

Sugar is linked to all kinds of health problems and researchers are finding that too much sugar in our diets does more than just contribute to weight gain. It causes inflammation, leads to aches and pains in your joints and muscles, and even contributes to heart disease.

WCCO’s Angela Davis spent time with a dietitian to find out how we can reduce the amount of sugar we take in each day.

It’s tough. Sugar is what makes so many foods taste good – and not just desserts. It’s in cereals and juices and many of the snacks that we like. And remember, when your body breaks down food high in carbohydrates, that starch turns to sugar as it’s digested.

Brenna Thompson is a registered dietitian. She works at Nutritional Weight and Wellness in Maple Grove.

She started by presenting a small jar half full of sugar.

“This is 43 teaspoons of sugar, which is the low end of what the average American eats in a day,” Brenna said. “(Sugar) lights up certain centers of the brain. You get a little rush in neuro-transmitters, that’s serotonin and dopamine, you like it, it feels good.”

But it’s not doing our bodies any good, so Thompson showed us how to do some better meal planning.

“Things like potato chips, popcorn and pretzels. We don’t think of them as being sugary. They’re salty and they turn into sugar in our bodies and that drives that inflammation,” she said.

A breakfast of cereal, orange juice, and milk looks like a healthy choice, but, “All of the carbohydrates combined in there is still going to turn into about 20 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream,” she said.

A better choice: a couple of scrambled eggs and some fresh fruit.

For lunch, many of us like to pack a sandwich and some chips, but even using whole wheat bread adds to our sugar intake for the day.

“Even if it is whole wheat bread, even that amazing 7-Grain Wheatberry bread, it is still going to turn into a lot of sugar in your bloodstream,” Brenna said.

So then, what do we eat for lunch?

“Instead of bringing a sandwich and chips, on the weekend make yourself a nice big batch of chili, or maybe a beef and vegetable soup,” she said.

The best snack option: nuts of mostly any kind — raw or salted.

Again, by the end of the day, dietitians believe most of us have consumed at least 43 teaspoons of sugar, through the foods and drinks we’ve chosen. They say the less you eat, the less you’ll crave it.

Remember that diet and exercise go hand in hand. Dietitians say it’s 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise if you are trying to reach your healthiest weight.

What did she say about fruit? It has sugar in it, but when you eat fruit, you are getting vitamins, minerals and fiber along with the natural sugar that’s in it.

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