This week I accepted a challenge to swap guest posts with another blogger. This is a guest post from Amy Hoogervost from the swap. Please check out her blog Faith & Sweat. A special thanks to Amy for guest posting.

I am a sugar addict.

Over Valentine’s weekend, I ate a dozen chocolate covered strawberries AND about a pound and a half of homemade fudge that were brought into my home. No exaggeration, unfortunately.

The week before, I had been so good to my body, too, completing a 3-day cleanse and staying on track with exercise and sleep. I typically eat pretty clean – opting for unprocessed, whole, natural foods. I am gluten free. I prefer an abundance of vegetables and lean protein. My dessert is usually dark chocolate.

But my diet wasn’t always that way, and if certain sweet items are in my house and I start on them, LOOK OUT.

I paid for that sugar binge with an upset stomach, headaches, irritability, and fatigue. But it doesn’t take such drastic consumption to feel the negative consequences of sugar, and for routine consumption to lead to big trouble.

The average American consumes about 32 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or about 126 grams of sugar. This does not include sugars in fruit, vegetables or regular milk, but it does include sugars added to these items and appearing as juices, sweetened dairy products, and other processed foods. Much of this added sugar comes from fructose or high fructose corn syrup, highly processed sugars that you’ll see on many labels. These are much sweeter than table sugar, so they’re cheaper for manufacturers, and they’re much worse than table sugar for our health.

Sugar simply is everywhere, and we’re paying the price with our health.

Too much sugar overloads your liver, tricks your body into gaining weight, messes with your blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and increases your risk for heart, kidney and other chronic disease. Some researchers say it feeds cancer cells, causing them to grow faster than they would otherwise.

Artificial sweeteners bring about other health concerns, so they’re not the answer to this pervasive poison.

Recent government guidelines – which few seem to be paying any attention to – encourage Americans to limit the added sugars in their diet to no more than 10 percent of total calorie intake. For a woman or a school-age child, that’s between 160-200 calories from added sugar. For a man, that would be 240-300 calories per day.

But how much is that, really? How do I know how much I’m consuming regularly?

If you eat a diet of processed, convenience foods or fast foods, you can bet you’re getting a lot. If it comes in a box, wrapper, jar or other container, you’d better read the label. If it comes from a restaurant, particularly a drive-through, visit their website for nutritional information. If you’ve never looked before, you will be shocked.

Let’s take the popular Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s, for example, since it’s in season right now. A medium one, with 93 grams of sugar, provides 660 calories – 372 of them from sugars alone. That is double the federal guideline, just from one item.. (Want a healthy Shamrock Shake recipe?

Let’s take a look at a poison that’s available year-round. A single 12-ounce can of Coca Cola has 140 calories, all from added sugars. Drink that today, and also have a glass of orange juice at breakfast, and you’ve had enough sugar just in those two items to surpass the guideline for any person.

The FDA has proposed labels that would require food and beverage companies to disclose the amount of added sugar and distinguish it from naturally occurring sugar in foods. Of course, most food manufacturers are balking at that. But it would help simplify matters for the consumer, and that’s who the government is supposed to protect.

Fruit sugars and refined sugars have different effects on the body. Generally, fudge aside since it was homemade and didn’t come with a label – if it needs a nutritional label pasted on it, it’s not as good for you as something that comes without a label – such as a fruit or vegetable.

Processed foods found in the Standard American Diet (SAD) and our fast-paced lifestyles conspire to keep us addicted to sugar.

We can break that with awareness, a plan, and resolve. I know I have a problem with some sugary things, and my plan is to not bring it into the house. If someone else brings it in and I am tempted by it, in the case of the fudge, I will have a sliver and then throw it away.

If you want to get started on a lower-sugar lifestyle, try these five tips:

  • Keep track of what you eat for a week, so you’re aware of what you’re putting in your body and your overall patterns. Just this practice alone might cause you to pass up something you would have otherwise eaten if you hadn’t written it down.
  • Focus on making one small change. If you normally buy several sweet treats at the store, buy only one to have in the house. Too many changes at once can be overwhelming and won’t last.
  • Crowd out your sweet tooth by adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Have water at dinner instead of tea or soda.
  • Ask for accountability from a friend or supportive family member. Often our family can dig in their feet, but by making small changes they may be more open to the goal.
  • Get back on track if you goof up. We all slip, and some of us in big ways sometimes. Don’t let it sabotage your overall goal. You are worth it!

Here’s to your health!