Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007. 

Mmmmm, sugar! It makes food taste good and gives us pleasure. Hundreds of years ago, it was so rare it was considered a spice. But over time, the more sugar we ate, the more we wanted. These days you would hardly consider sugar a rarity. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Consider these statistics: On average, people in the United States eat 77 pounds of sugar per year, or approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. These amounts are quite a bit higher than what is recommended. The American Heart Association recommends a sugar intake of only six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.

Where do you stand?

If you're not sure, consider that one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams, and one 12-ounce can of cola-flavored soda has 39 grams of sugar. That’s 9.75 teaspoons of sugar in that one can of soda. By consuming that can of soda (or container of yogurt, or single candy bar, etc.) you are already at the recommended limit if you are man and over the limit if you are a woman!

How much sugar is too much?

So what happens if you consume more than those six or nine teaspoons of sugar each day? Is there a level of intake that is unsafe? The National Academy of Science says no more than 25 percent of our daily calories should come from sugar. (The World Health Organization has a much more conservative recommendation, saying that less than 10 percent of calories should come from sugar each day.) That 25 percent equals approximately three 12-oz cans of soda, and this amount of sugar intake is very common in the American diet.

While we know that the link between sugar and hyperactivity is a myth, we also know that too much sugar intake can displace healthier foods, lead to tooth decay, damage your liver, and raise triglycerides (the fats in your blood). In addition, recent animal studies show increased mortality and behavior changes with this “average” sugar intake. It appears our “average” might actually be harmful.

How to eat less sugar

As with any other food or nutrient, you do not need to completely eliminate sugar from your diet in order to be healthy. It is especially difficult to avoid sugar if you eat packaged foods, so start by preparing more of your own meals, snacks, and sweets to control the amount of sugar in the foods you eat. Here are seven other tips:

1. Eat dark chocolate to fill a craving for something sweet.
2. Eat whole fruit for the sweetness of natural sugar, plus the benefit of fiber.
3. Reduce sugar in recipes for cookies, cakes, and other baked goods by one fourth to one third. The recipe will still turn out great!
4. Use sugar substitutes, such as applesauce, in baked goods.
5. Use extracts such as vanilla or lemon, or spices such as nutmeg or allspice, to increase flavor.
6. Be sure to read Nutrition Facts labels on all the foods you eat, not just the sweets. Sugar is found in everything from tartar sauce and orange chicken to yogurt.
7. Consider eating dessert once per week instead of once per day or once per meal.

Do you have any personal tips on how to eat less sugar? Share in the comments below!