Are you having an affair? No, I don’t mean with the hunk or the hot chick at the gym. I’m thinking of something a bit sweeter. Something creamy, crunchy, or gooey. It’s sugar, which most of us wrap our lips around daily. Sugar has gotten a bad wrap of late. But relax. You don’t have to give it up to be healthy or lose weight. People demonize sugar, but there’s nothing wrong with it in reasonable amounts. Ah, but there’s the rub. Chances are, your intake is not reasonable.
How Much Are You Eating?
You might sprinkle a teaspoon or two of sugar into your coffee, but by far the majority of that added sugar comes from pre-sweetened processed and prepared foods, from soft drinks, baked goods, sweetened cereals, and ice cream to less obvious foods like canned baked beans, frozen entrees, and fruited yogurt. The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) reports we drench ourselves in more than 30 teaspoons of added sugar every day, from sucrose, glucose, and high fructose corn syrup to those “natural sugars” like agave, raw sugar, organic cane syrup, and turbinado. (Hint: Don’t be fooled by the natural claim; those sweeteners are just another word for added sugar!) Think about it - 30 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s 478 calories a day (the equivalent of a hamburger and fries!). Put another way - if all you gave up was added sugars, you could lose up to 50 pounds in a year! (1,2)
Why Natural Sugar is OK
Most of us need to cut back on sugar. Way back. But, let’s get something straight. It’s added sugar that should be cut. That 30 teaspoons reflects only added sugar, not the natural sugars in fruits, some vegetables, or milk. Natural sugars in real foods, like watermelon, come packaged with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidant-rich phytonutrients, like lycopene or beta carotene. You’d be hard-pressed to find this wealth of nutrients in sweetened processed foods. In addition, all that water in real foods dilutes the natural sugars that make a slice of watermelon so chin-dribbling delicious. An additional bonus is that the fiber and/or protein in these natural sources of sugar cause less of a spike in blood sugar and they make you feel full longer, so curb hunger and help with weight management. Compare that to added sugars that typically provide nothing but calories.
Sugar-Busting Shopping Tricks
How can you navigate the grocery aisles to avoid too much added sugar? Unfortunately, at this time, labels don’t differentiate between added and natural sugars, so you have to do some sleuthing. Keep in mind there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, so a food or beverage that contains 32 grams of sugar, for example, has 8 teaspoons of added sugar. Limit processed foods that contain sugar or any of its aliases in the first three ingredients or that contain multiple sugars throughout the ingredient list. Real foods don’t need a label, because you can trust they come prepackaged as Mother Nature intended. That saves you time and energy when choosing the best watermelon in the produce aisle! (3-6)References:
1. Trends in intake of energy and macronutrients, United States, 1971-2000, Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report 2004;53:February 6.
2. Putnam J, Allshouse J, Kantor L: U.S. per capita food supply trends: More calories, refined carbohydrates, and fats. FoodReview 2002;25 (3):2-15.
3. Kumar G, Pan L, Park S, et al: Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among adults - 18 states, 2012. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2014;63:686-690.
4. Drewnowski A, Rehm C: Consumption of added sugars among US children and adults by food purchase location and food source. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014;100:901-907.
5. Park S, Pan L, Sherry B, et al: Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among US adults in 6 states. Preventing Chronic Disease 2014;April 24:11:E65.
6. Bray G, Popkin B: Dietary sugar and body weight: Have we reached a crisis in the epidemic of obesity and diabetes? Diabetes Care 2014;37:950-956.