Oh… Sugar

By: Candace Gilbert

Sugar. Pure deliciousness. There are few things that aren’t made better by sugar. Even Mary Poppins knew “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” Coke tells you to “Open Happiness”, as if someone figured out how to bottle a feeling and they were capitalizing on it. Evidence has been mounting for decades about the dangers of high sugar intake. Knowing that it carries with it the increased risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity and obesity-related cancers, as well as cavities, may leave a bitter taste in your mouth1.           

It’s no secret that excessive sugar intake sugar is bad for you, but what constitutes excessive? One cross-sectional study of children showed a 5% increase in insulin resistance with every 8 ounces over the first 11.8 ounces. The same study showed children that consumed no sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) had a smaller waist circumference and higher HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides than those of other children1. All of which point to a direct correlation between increased SSB consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Obesity is just the tip of the iceberg and the most apparent physical indicator.

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With the American Heart Association now making recommendations that children consume less than 25 grams a day of the white stuff, it is becoming more apparent that sugar is one of the leading causes of preventable disease and illness related to lifestyle. But this isn’t just about children, for years the AHA has resolved that adults should limit their consumption to 25 grams, for most women and 32 grams for men2. Twenty-five grams is equal to about 100 calories or 6 teaspoons. That is little “t”, not big “T”. To put it in perspective, a 20-ounce bottle of Coke, the kind found in every vending machine east of the Pacific Ocean has 65 grams of sugar or 16 teaspoons or 2 ½ times the daily limit for women and children.   Perhaps you “Do the Dew”, 77 grams of sugar. Need to party like a Monster Rockstar? 62 Grams in a 16 oz. can. Like to keep things simple with Vitamin Water?   33 grams or 8 teaspoons of added sugar. Keep things real with fruit juice? You are better off drinking the Kool-Aid. Apple Juice has 52 grams of sugar while the same 16 oz serving of Cherry Kool-Aid has only 32.

These are just a few examples from the SSB category and sugar isn’t really hiding in here unless it’s behind more sugar. It’s full on, in your face, and your dopamine receptors love you for it. And it is the largest single, measurable food category that has absolutely zero nutritional value, completely devoid of benefits.            

If we are keeping our sugars below 25 grams a day, then we need to know where else it lurks. Everywhere.

According to SugarScience.org there are 61 names for sugar and it can be found in 74% of packaged food3. In your Ketchup, Salsa, spaghetti sauce, salad dressing… even in your bread. Mostly the names are pretty straight forward, if it ends in sugar or syrup it’s sugar, if it ends in –ose its sugar. Nectar, bees like it and it is sugar. Honey, all natural sugar. Cane juice is from sugar cane. But then there are some strange names that will take either a chemistry degree or a deep, deep love of sugar to recognize. Maltol, Muscovado, Panocha, Mannos, Dextrin, Treacle3? Who comes up with this? And how are you supposed to know? Is there an App for that?   

The easiest way to know how much sugar something has in it is by the nutrition label which will list how many grams an item contains. There is a shortfall in this as labels currently don’t have to say how much is added as opposed to naturally occurring. That’s when you look at the ingredient list for those strange words. My “healthy” bread (it’s in the name) has 3 grams of sugar so it must be naturally occurring, right? Wrong, sugar is the third ingredient. Flour, water, sugar. There is more sugar in my bread than flaxseed and I can see the flaxseed.

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Yogurt is a healthy snack, high in calcium and, depending on the type, high in protein. But it can also come high in sugar. If you compare a label of plain yogurt to one with flavor, you can deduce how much of the sugar is added and how much is naturally occurring. You may be surprised by the amount of sweetener is added to your healthy snack. A simple remedy is buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit or even a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup. An article by Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN from the Academy of Nutrition suggest mixing plain yogurt with regular sweetened yogurt to cut the sugar intake. Cording also suggest that instead of “obsessing over grams and teaspoons, focus on reducing added sugar intake by limiting products that contain it”4.

Sounds simple enough but a lot of foresight has to go into avoiding sugar laden foods. The easiest thing is to cut out SSBs and replace them with milk or water.  Look for grains, bread and cereal, pasta and rice, with less than 1 gram of sugar. Try making your own pasta sauce, salsa, salad dressings, etc. Those are all quite easy to make and taste great without sugar. For those more ambitious and in position to do so, baking your own treats allows you the freedom to control the amount of sugar you put in a recipe. It rarely effects the baking process and still taste as good if not better than store bought4.                      

Food manufactures will soon be listing added sugars on the nutrition label which should make things much simpler. Until then we need to be vigilant if we want to live a long and healthy life.   Lifestyle modification doesn’t mean obliterating a food group (sugar is not a food group), it means practicing moderation. And while the media has sold us on moderation being whatever we want without consequence, the science begs to differ.


References:

  1. Vos MB, Kaar JL, Welsh JA, et al. Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. August 2016. https://login.dax.lib.unf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cmedm&an=27550974&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed September 20, 2016. Journal Article
  2. By Any Other Name It’s Still Sweetener. Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease. Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease. http://www.heart.org/heartorg/healthyliving/healthyeating/nutrition/added-sugars-add-to-your-risk-of-dying-from-heart-disease_ucm_460319_article.jsp#.v-c3xjtus9y. Accessed September 24, 2016. 
  3. @sugarscience. Hidden in Plain Sight. SugarScience.org. http://www.sugarscience.org/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.v-aopttus9y. Published December 9, 2014. Accessed September 22, 2016.
  4.  Cording J. Looking to Reduce Your Family’s Intake of Added Sugars? Here’s How. Kids Eat Right. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/looking-to-reduce-your-familys-added-sugar-intake-heres-how. Published January 7, 2016.
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