Sugar is obviously a hot topic in the nutrition world. Marketing tells us that sugar is the root of all disease and it should essentially be banned from our diets. Store shelves are packed with "low- sugar" and "no-sugar" options. But, is sugar really the problem, or is it the quantities we're consuming?
I recently spoke with Carolyn Lammersfeld, MBA, MS, RD, CSO, LD and Vice-President of Integrative Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America about how sugar affects our health and how we can reduce our addiction for the sweet stuff.
Let's look at a few sugar stats first.
In the past century, sugar consumption, on average, for Americans has increased from approximately 4 lbs per year to almost 100 pounds...per person...per year.
I know what you're thinking.
There is NO WAY I consume 100 lbs of sugar in a year.
Let's break it down.
Virtually every food label lists sugar in grams. To figure out the number of teaspoons, divide the grams by four. So, a product with 20 grams of sugar per serving has approximately 5 teaspoons of sugar.
A typical 20 oz pop has approximately 67 grams of sugar- or 16.75 tsp. One 20 oz. pop a day for 365 days equals 6113.75 tsps. of sugar...approximately 127 cups...approximately 56 lbs. of sugar...IN ONE YEAR...FROM ONE 20oz BOTTLE OF POP DAILY.
56 pounds. And we haven't even added in cookies, slices of cake, breads, cereals, coffee, frappucinos, yogurt, or condiments- yes- ketchup, bbq sauce, and even our morning toast can be laden with added sugars.
So we eat a little too much sugar, what's the big deal? Increased sugar leads to weight gain, which in-turn, increases risk for diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.
It's easy to see why marketers jump all over "Low-Sugar" and "No-Sugar" packaging...and why many fall for it. They say sugar is bad, so no sugar must be better for our health, right?
Hang on. Remember "No" and "Low" can be synonymous with chemical shit-storm. Those common non-sugar/synthetic sugar substitutes: aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, splenda, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame-K/ace-K are not only 100-600 times sweeter than regular table sugar, they also come with their list adverse health affects...
over-eating, weight gain, migraines, change in vision, nausea, insomnia, sleep disorders, joint pain, abdominal pain, change in heart rate, depression, seizures, cancer, memory loss, dizziness, fatigue, allergies, fibromyalgia, mimic symptoms of Parkinson's, and birth defects
I'll take the natural sugar thanks.
As of today, our food labels lump all sugar ingredients together so you can't discern how much is added as opposed to natural (lactose/dairy, fructose/produce). The proposed 2018 food labels will break sugars into separate categories so you know how much sugar has been added to the product.
But, there are several ways to limit your added sugar intake now, regardless of food labels. Remember, we're talking about ADDED sugar. This doesn't mean avoiding berries, carrots, and apples! Unless you're under your medical professional's guidance, avoiding REAL produce as an attempt to limit carbs or sugars leaves you susceptible to missing several key vitamins and minerals.
Carolyn Lammersfeld's S.L.A.S.H system is an effective guide to staying within the American Heart Association's recommendation for added sugars: no more than 25 grams (approx. 6 1/4 tsp) for women and 38 grams (approx. 9.5 tsp) for men.
S. Stay in for meals. Gain Control by cooking at home and packing lunch and snacks. Add fresh fruit and a bit of honey to plain yogurt instead of pre-packaged varieties with added sugar. At home cooking allows you to easily adapt the sugar in recipes usually with little to no discernible change in taste. Find ideas for healthier snacks on the go here.
L. Look at labels. Identify the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars on the nutrition labels. Even though the new labels won't be out until 2018, the ingredients list is a good indication of added sugars. Natural sugar sources found in fruit, milk, and grains are not listed as separate ingredients, but when you see fructose, maple syrup, maltose, glucose or any of the other 56 names for sugar listed in the ingredients- they're all added sugars.
A. Alternate sugar sources. Use or make your own condiments and sauces without added sugar. Many condiments require limited ingredients, making them at home not only saves money, but can have a huge impact on reducing added sugar.
S. Sweeten yourself. Buy unsweetened products and sweeten them yourself to use less of an alternative sweetener. A small addition of REAL (think one ingredient!) maple syrup, honey, dates, or berries not only adds a bit of sweetness but many health benefits as well.
H. Hydrate. Rethink what you are drinking and choose more water. We've already seen how sugars in pop add up quickly. Reducing your daily habit to one or two per week dramatically decreases added sugar in your diet. Better yet, choose water. Use berries, or slices of cucumber, peaches or kiwi to naturally flavor and sweeten if plain water seems monotonous.
Although Carolyn Lammersfeld's Cancer Nutrition & Recipes for Dummies is designed to meet the nutritional needs of cancer patients, there are several simple recipes meal and snack ideas using limited ingredients requiring little prep time that are perfect for everyone. Seriously, check out the Mexican Bean Salad with Lime Dressing!
Simple changes can make a dramatic difference in your health. Taking control of what's on your plate is a great way to reduce risks of heart diseases and cancer. You don't have to eliminate sugar from your life, just "SLASH" your consumption of it.
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