When’s the last time you had added sugar? Do you even know what constitutes added sugar in your diet? I’m talking about anything with table sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, dextrose and more. If you’re a firefighter, you might have access to even more added sugar due to the firehouse environment, especially if someone brought in extra sweets or kindly donated something like cookies, cakes, donuts, or chocolate to the firehouse. The access to added sugar in the firehouse tends to be constant, and so often, firefighters turn to added sugar due to mindless snacking and/or seeking an energy boost rather than an actual interest or need to have excess amounts of added sugar. 

My goal is to bring awareness to added sugar’s presence within your diet (whether you’re a firefighter or not) and, armed with that knowledge, you can then decide if you’d like to make changes. I want you to understand where added sugar quite literally adds up in your diet, increase awareness surrounding added sugar, and decrease the amount of added sugar within your daily diet. 

Understanding that diet is a modifiable behavioral factor that influences our health — both in and out of the firehouse— including weight status, heart disease, and some cancer risks, is imperative here. It is necessary to identify all factors, including specific environmental changes that can help improve firehouse cooking and eating habits.

Where is added sugar in your diet coming from?

Added sugars are found almost everywhere in our food supply and at the firehouse. While we typically know that added sugars are found in sweetened beverages and desserts, we often skip over the fact that added sugars can be found in convenience items and processed carbohydrates like breads, crackers, pretzels and also in our favorite condiments, salad dressings, tomato sauces, and more. If you’re eating processed foods and looking at the nutrition label (check added sugars and the ingredient list) you’ll start to see that sugar is everywhere. In fact, it is! Added sugar is in approximately 80% of our foods in the supermarket, including some “healthier” options like cereals, yogurts, nutrition bars, protein supplements, healthy options, non-healthy options — it’s everywhere.

Sugar comes in many forms, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with popular ones. Before we can eliminate added sugar, we need to know what we’re looking for. Did you know there are over 50 types of sugar? These different names for added sugar can be found in most packaged foods. When looking at an ingredient label, if it ends in “ose” or “ol” you can count on it being a form of sugar.

added sugar in you diet

In contrast, there are naturally occurring sugars (carbohydrates) in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products, which is not something that I’m exploring in this article. I am sharing information about added sugars – sugar that it is not present within a food normally but gets added as an ingredient. 

Calculating: grams to teaspoons 

When purchasing processed foods, if interested in understanding how much added sugar is in that product, you can check the nutrition label for sugar content (in grams). Divide the grams of sugar by four to calculate how many teaspoons of sugar are present.

Why break up with added sugar?

Added sugar intake has become such a concern for firefighters and the general public that there are now recommendations to decrease, limit, or avoid added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of the calories you eat come from added sugar. It’s safe to say that we’re eating — and drinking — more than that. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all added sugars in our diets come from the things we drink, not just from the food we eat!

Studies are finding that added sugars may increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, and metabolic conditions, like diabetes. The average American consumes about 400 calories of added sugar daily, when recommendations from the American Heart Association range from 100 (6 tsp) -150 (9 tsp) calories per day for women and men, respectively; or <10% of your total calorie intake.

Where does added sugar fit in your diet?

Please note: Added sugar has a place within our diets when we are looking at both health and enjoyment. It’s of concern when we consume an excess amount of added sugar. 

My challenge to you: Figure out how big of a presence sugar has in your diet. Taking the time to examine added sugars within your diet may help you become more mindful of your sugar intake. Try ditching added sugar for a certain period of time and you may start to notice how much sugar is in your diet. You can even notice how much sugar you are adding to your favorite home-cooked meals or even your morning coffee. Taking the time to examine added sugars within your diet may help you become more aware and mindful of your sugar intake.

Looking for another resource that can help you be more mindful of your added sugar intake. Check out Four Mindful Eating Tips for Firefighters

Where does your added sugar intake come from? Leave a question or comment below to share!