Ah spring. Sweetness is in the air – the vibrant colors, the buds blooming, and the people in euphoric states. It’s kind of like a sugar rush. The perfect time to talk about the added sugars in your diet!
Whereas until recently all the rage was to reduce fat in your diet, it’s been found that sugar is the main culprit in our current health crisis (most likely because many manufacturers of those low fat items boosted their flavor by replacing the fat with sugar and we all got addicted). The consequence: what was supposed improve our country’s health has resulted in increased obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and dementia rates (among other things). It also impacts your mood. Sigh.
The American Heart Association recommends men consume 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons (the equivalent of 150 calories) daily; and women consume 25 grams or 6 teaspoons (the equivalent of 100 calories) per day.
For your reference, Americans currently average 22 – 30 teaspoons daily (teens are even higher). Yikes - no wonder we’re sick and gaining weight!
To put that further into perspective, a typical 12-ounce can of regular soda has 130 calories and 8 teaspoons of sugar. Pretty much one soda and goodbye daily sugar intake!
Dr. Mark Hyman calls sugar a recreational drug, and he’s right! What makes us think that we can have sugar at every meal and not suffer any ramifications?
I’m not talking about the mindful choices you make to add sugar (hopefully natural!) to your coffee, or enjoy an occasional dessert. I’m particularly focused on the hidden added sugars in so many products that you don’t even realize! Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. So if you’re trying to reduce your processed food intake, you want to avoid them.
Unfortunately, you need to be an investigator to figure out how to detect them. Marketers are smart. They have devised many different names for sugar - there are natural sugars (such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey) as well as chemically manufactured sweeteners (such as high fructose corn syrup). Their many names include agave syrup, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose sucrose, saccharose), maltitol and sorbitol (sugar alcohol), beet sugar, cane crystals (or "cane juice crystals"), high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, dehydrated or evaporated cane juice, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, palm sugar, raw sugar, sugar, syrup, sorghum or sorghum syrup. Whew!
In addition, current nutrition labels don’t list the amount of added sugars alone in a product. The line for “sugars” you see on the nutrition facts label includes both added and naturally occurring sugars, and the ingredient list can have many different kinds. Sugars as the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth ingredients, sugar can rapidly add up to No. 1.
For example, a 6-ounce carton of seemingly healthy pomegranate yogurt has 19 grams of sugar. A plain yogurt has 7 grams, all lactose (milk sugar), which is not a problem. Thus, each pomegranate yogurt has 12 grams of added sugar.
The good news is that people are now talking about this and the concerns are finally being taken seriously.
Just a couple of months ago the NY Times reported that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a nutrition advisory panel that helps shape the country’s official dietary guidelines, singled out added sugars as one of its major concerns. It has recommended a reduction in our daily-added sugar intake to 10% of calories, which is big news. Its report is sent to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. That will impact school lunch programs (among others), so hopefully will stop the cycle.
So where should you look for these hidden sugars?
First I encourage you to read your labels, and check for the many names of sugar cited above. If you see too many, put the product back!
Your condiments and salad dressings seem harmless, but they’re not. Just 1 tablespoon of ketchup has the equivalent of 4 grams or 1 teaspoon of added sugar. Balsamic vinaigrettes seem like a good choice, but again you may be surprised when you look at the label of your favorite dressing.
I’ve already talked about soda, but it really is my pet peeve – sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks and ice teas are filled with sugar and often touted as great for kids. Not! Just eliminating one sugary drink per day will reduce your sugar intake by around 10 teaspoons of sugar. Great progress!
But, please don’t replace it with an artificially sweetened beverage, as those have a whole other range of issues (that’s another blog entry). Instead, use water (you can flavor with fresh lemon or lime) or herbal tea (hot or iced). Feel free to check out this sugary drink fact sheet.
Believe it or not, bread often contains a lot of added sugar. Wheat and grain breads may have more than white, to mask any bitterness. Feels like a slap in the face when you think you’re doing yourself a favor by eating whole grain, right? Just pay attention to the label to be sure you’re choosing one with natural (instead of added) sugars.
Cereal has an outrageous amount of sugar. Instead, try making your own! I use a combination of seeds (chia, sunflower, flax), almonds, walnuts and fresh fruit. Add some honey, cinnamon and milk and you’ve got a very healthful, tasty cereal. Note: if you use chia seeds, let them soak in the milk a bit so they plump up.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. So educate yourself. There are plenty of tools to help you.
JJ Virgin created a list of “sneaky sugar inventory” which you can use to pinpoint where medium and high sugar foods might be sneaking into your diet regularly.
If you want to go all out, you can take a sugar free challenge (check out this one by Fed Up).
If that’s too overwhelming, just start implementing small changes to reduce your daily-added sugar intake.
With every sugar rush there’s a sugar crash, so take notice if ups and downs have become normal for you (they aren’t).
There is so much sweetness around you. Let’s reduce the amount that you put IN you! Take a small step toward weaning yourself off the added sugars that may be literally poisoning you.
So what will you start with?
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™
P.S. Wednesday is Earth Day. Take a moment to recognize the sweetness of our beautiful earth!