The average American consumes 156 pounds of sugar per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is 31 bags weighing 5 pounds each of sugar. Of that amount, only 2 pounds of sugar come from natural food sources, such as corn, apples, oranges, etc. The rest comes from raw sugar.

On average, each adult gets 22 teaspoons of sugar per day and kids get 32 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends 6 to 9 teaspoons of sugar daily for adults as a maximum and even less sugar for children.

According the USDA’s dietary guidelines, the overconsumption of sugar can lead to many health problems, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, impaired immune system and chronic diseases, such as cancer. It also contributes to excess weight gain, which contributes to poor health. One in three Americans is obese and the childhood obesity rate has tripled in the last 20 years.

Sugar comes in many forms in the foods and drinks you consume. Many times, it is hidden behind words that you don’t normally associate with sugar, but they are still sugar. Some of those hidden sugars are high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose or maltose.

If you see any of these words listed in the ingredients on the food label, then you know there is sugar in the product you are purchasing. The other thing to pay attention to is how many grams of sugar are in each product you purchase, especially drinks, by seeing how many carbohydrates are in the product. Sugary drinks are the No. 1 source of sugar consumption in the country.

If you are looking at the nutrition label and see how many grams of carbohydrates are in the drink, there is an easy way to figure out how many teaspoons of sugar exist in the container. You need to do a little math. For example, a 12-ounce can of pop may list 48 grams of total carbohydrates. Take 48 and divide by 4 to get the number of teaspoons of sugar, which is 12. If you drink this, you will consume 12 teaspoons of sugar. Here is an example of products and the amount of sugar that each bottle contains:

• Orange Slice soda (12 ounces), 13 teaspoons

• Gatorade (20 ounces), 9 teaspoons

• Starbucks Grande, 12 teaspoons

• Sunny Delight drink (16 ounces), 15 teaspoons

• Rockstar Energy Drink, 16 teaspoons

• Snapple Lemonade, 14 teaspoons

The size of sugary drinks has grown exponentially over the years, especially in the last 20. In 1916, Coca Cola bottles came in 6-ounce bottles. In 1960, they came in 6.5, 10 and 12 ounces. Today, they come in 12, 20, 24, 32 and 44 ounces. If you drink a 32-ounce bottle of soda, that is equivalent to 400 calories. You can eat the following food, which are equivalent to 400 calories:

• 1 ½ cups of macaroni and cheese

• 3 bowls of cereal and milk

• 1 roast beef sandwich

• 5 cups of chicken noodle soup

• 2 brownies

In order to burn off those 400 calories, you need to run for 35 minutes, do circuit training for 40 minutes or a 45-minute aerobics class. If you don’t burn off those calories, you could gain over 40 pounds per year.

So, what are some alternatives to drinking sugary drinks? Eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice. Make your own tea. You can cool it off and drink it unsweetened. Or consider lightening up cappuccinos by using skimmed milk instead of whole milk.

Your best solution is to drink water. Water hydrates your body, is calorie free and is inexpensive. Water makes up 60% of your body. Water is important because it protects your organs, regulates body temperature and carries nutrients to the cells throughout your body.

There are many ways to liven up water. You can add fruit slices or cucumber slices, add herbs or a splash of fruit juice or use ice cubes. Try carbonated water to get the fizz that soda gives you.

Avoiding sugary drinks takes a bit of planning and thought, but you can contribute to your health and well-being by decreasing sugary drinks. In this way, you will be cutting a major source of sugar from your diet and decreasing your risk of disease. 

Adrian Kohrt is a family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at amkohrt@alaska.edu or 907-474-7930.