From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Preventing Sugar Overload

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Nutrition Basics, Snacking on December 13, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Aaaahhhh.  The joys of Christmas:  tree trimming, card writing, gift giving, over-eating…and the inevitable sugar buzz!!!  Some of you may consider it cruel of me to broach this subject at a time of joyful indulgence…  Others may be glad for the friendly reminder to go easy with all the sweet treats of the season.   I have received a variety of questions from my readers regarding sugar intake over the past year, and thought it wise to summarize the answers in this special holiday edition 😉

Who can honestly afford the roughly 400 calories’ worth of added sugars that the typical American consumes each day?  Holidays or not, we as a population are addicted to sugar.  There is an abundance of evidence suggesting that added sugars, from sweetened beverages, coffee drinks, candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, ice cream, cereals, granola bars, etc., may raise the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and gout.   Have an interest in preventing these formidable diseases?  Cutting back on sugar is one positive step towards doing so!

Exactly what are added sugars, you ask?  They include high-fructose corn syrup, ordinary table sugar (sucrose), honey, agave syrup or nectar, apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, grape juice concentrate, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, and beet sugar.   High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has developed a negative reputation in the media over the past few years.  Many people have become so conscious of avoiding HFCS that they forget about avoiding all these other added sweeteners too!  Eating a granola bar that lists “brown rice syrup” on the ingredient list has added sugar. 

The greatest problem with added sugar is that it is a source of “empty” calories—essentially no nutritional value.  Added sugars either crowd out healthy, nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains), or they make you gain weight if you eat them in addition to healthy foods.  The American Heart Association suggests that a  typical woman should get no more than 100 calories (about 6 1/2 tsps or 25 grams) a day from added sugars, and typical man no more than 150 calories (about 9 1/2 tsps or 38 grams) per day.  Less than these recommendations is even better!!! 

To help you stay on top of your discretionary sugar intake, sugar content is quantitatively (in grams) provided on the Nutrition Facts label.  Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no distinction between natural sugars and added sugars.  As a general rule of thumb, if a food contains little or no milk or fruit (which have natural sugars), then the “Sugars” number on the package will let you know how much added sugar you are getting in each serving.  (make sure to check the serving size at the top of the panel)  Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in whole fruit, milk, and plain yogurt.

One sure-fire way to exceed the added sugar recommendations is to consume sugar-sweetened beverages.  Soft drinks are the number-one source of added sugar in the American diet.  Not only do liquid sugars contribute an exceptional amount of extra calories, they do not curb your appetite for more food.  Reasearch has shown that people do not compensate for liquid sugars by eating less solid food at meals and snacks, like one would if he or she ate the same number of calories from solid food.  (i.e. eating 100 calories worth of an orange will fill you up more than 100 calories worth of orange juice, allowing you to eat less food overall)  It’s not just soda pop either…beware of sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Propel), energy drinks (Red Bull, Monster, Glaceau Vitamin Water), sweetened teas (SoBe, Lipton, Snapple, Arizona, Nestea, Tazo), fruit juice/drinks, coffee drinks, hot cocoa, egg nog, and alcoholic beverages containing sugars and juices (flavored martinis, after-dinner liqueurs, Daquiris, Pina Coladas, Margaritas, Mojitos).  The more nutritious 100% fruit juice, such as orange, grape, or grapefruit, should be limited to no more than 1 cup per day.

It is important to realize that most sugary foods are JUNK foods—high in sugar & calories, and low in nutrients.  Many are also packed with virtually worthless white flour (refined from wheat) and come in sizes not suitable for just one person watching his or her waistline.  That tempting “breakfast muffin” at Panera or Starbucks is essentially a large piece of cake.  Not the best way to start your day…

For the remainder of the holiday season, see if you can avoid drinking sugar-laden beverages in favor of diet soda, calorie-free flavored water (“Metromint” water is a new favorite of mine), and/or unsweetened coffee and tea as often as possible.  You can then cut down on the solid treats come January 😉

Here’s to a Happy New Year of good health and good eatin’!

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