According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Americans’ sugar consumption has contributed to an epidemic of obesity, a risk factor for several life-threatening illnesses and diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, kidney disease and pregnancy problems.

Reducing your sugar intake can reduce your risk of these life-threatening conditions, but how do you go about it?

Educate Yourself

The AHA recommends limiting added sugar consumption to 6 teaspoons (25 grams / 100 calories) per day for women and children over age 2 years, and 9 teaspoons (36 grams / 150 calories) per day for men. Children under 2 years should avoid consuming any added sugar since they need nutrient-rich diets and are developing taste preferences. To put that in perspective, a can of soda typically contains up to 12 grams of sugar, a single slice of whole wheat bread, up to 2 teaspoons of added sugars. Yet, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons every day. That’s about 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.

Avoid Added Sugars

We consume two types of sugars, naturally occurring sugars, found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), and added sugars, any sugars or sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation, including the sugar you add to your morning coffee. Prime culprits include soft drinks, candy, cakes, pies, fruit drinks, dairy desserts (ice cream, flavored yogurt) and grains (frozen waffles, /cereals).

Read Labels and Watch out for Sugar Aliases

To avoid products with added sugar, start by reading the Nutrition Facts Label on every food you buy. Choose “unsweetened” products and those with “no added sugar.” Watch out for items like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, malt sugar and molasses. And look for the “ose” ingredients – dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose. They’re all added sugars.

Ditch the Sodas

If you’re a soda drinker, switch to diet sodas. Or, better yet, try a flavored sparkling water (just make sure to read the label to be sure there are no added sugars). Drinking pure water is best. For a refreshing change, try infusing it with fruits or herbs, like mint or basil.

Choose Fresh Over Packaged

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over packaged, processed foods. Instead of a cookie, grab a bunch of grapes, a square of dark chocolate (with at least 70% cacao) or a handful of homemade trail mix to satisfy your craving for sweets. Instead of choosing a flavored yogurt (which likely contains added sugar), add strawberries, bananas or blueberries to plain yogurt.

Enlist Natural Sugar Substitutes

When cooking, instead of sugar, use extracts (almond, vanilla, orange or lemon), enhance foods with spices (ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg) and substitute unsweetened applesauce (use equal amounts).

Start With a High-Protein, Savory Breakfast

Eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate (including low-sugar) breakfast will keep you fuller longer, and you’ll likely consume fewer calories at lunch. Instead of a sugary cereal or muffin for breakfast, why not whip up an egg white omelet, sprinkle berries and nuts on plain yogurt or make a protein shake?

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