I have to confess, I love sweets. I'm embarrassed to admit that at some meals, I'm just biding my time until desert. Truth be told, I'm not alone. While I would not encourage people to eat more sugar and sweets, the reality of the matter is, most of us love sugar.

To compound the matter, sugar has no nutritional value, and it is everywhere, particularly in processed foods. The pervasiveness of sugar means that we, as a culture, have easy access to it and as a consequence, eat too much of it. Plain and simple. In fact, added sugar makes up at least 10% of the average American diet, and 1 in 10 Americans get 25% of their calories from added sugar.

And if you read the news, you know that there are health consequences to this sort of diet, some of which are very serious. In fact, sugar has been implicated in a number of diseases, including the following:

  • Tooth decay
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease

The take home message from all of this is simple: we need to reduce our intake of sugar, for our own health and the health of our families. The question is, how do we do it?

While changing our eating habits is not rocket science, it can be met with some resistance, especially by kids who love to eat sugar. Furthermore, sugar is hidden in places that you would never expect like bread, crackers, and even sushi, increasing our consumption without our knowledge.

That doesn't mean, however, that parents can't do something about it. All it takes is a little diligence and awareness, sprinkled with some common sense, to help improve your family's diet.

Here are 9 steps to begin this healthy process.

1. Drink More Water

Sweetened beverages like soda, lemonade, and sweet tea are loaded with sugar, and in many cases account for 40% of the added sugar in our diets. They are also easy to consume and end up replacing real nutrition, so we should eliminate them from our diets.

2. Read Labels

If you buy processed or snack foods, read the label to see how much sugar has been added. While nutrition information can be misleading or hard to decipher, a good indicator of sugar content is the ingredients list which lists things in descending order by weight. If sugar is near the top of the list, then it probably contains a lot of sugar. Sugar also has many different aliases, so be aware of the different names and buy accordingly.

3. Sweeten Foods Yourself

Buying unsweetened versions of food and adding your own sweetener lets you control the amount and type of sweetener, including more natural ones. Buy plain yogurt and oatmeal and add maple syrup or raw honey. You can also brew your own tea and flavor it as you wish.

4. Dilute Juices With Water

Juices have vitamins and nutrients but also a lot of sugar. If you water down juice a bit, it can still be enjoyed with less of the offending sugar.

5. Use Real Fruit

Adding real fruit to yogurt or cereal not only reduces the processed sugar content, but it adds fiber and nutrients that are in fruit. Plus, fruit is tasty and enjoyed by most people.

6. Make Sweets a Treat, Not a Habit

Sugar is addicting and its consumption should be moderated. Don't make sweets a regular part of your family's diet and make it more of a treat, to be enjoyed occasionally or during special occasions. This will also give everyone something to look forward to.

7. Start Early

It is best to start good eating habits early and difficult to change bad eating habits after they have begun. Start your kids early on a lower-sugar diet.

8. Make Sure Real Food Gets Eaten

In our house, we don't allow the kids to have a sweet treat if they have not eaten their meal, and it's generally met with little resistance (good habit created early). Having food in the stomach will hopefully help moderate the flow of simple sugars into the blood.

9. Be a Parent, Not a Friend

Healthy choices will not always be popular, so don't give in to your kids' complaints about reducing sugar consumption. Remember that you're doing it for their health.

To learn more about sugar and its health consequences, talk to your doctor and visit the website for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.