Cane sugar, turbinado brown sugar, fruit-juice sweetened, agave nectar, organic sugar, molasses, honey — how many alternative sources of sugar are in the grocery aisles? And are they really healthier?
While some of these options may come from cleaner, less-processed sources, excess sugar in any form can be dangerous to your diet, waistline and overall health. We can’t deny the uplifting feeling we get when finishing off a celebratory meal with hot molten lava chocolate cake or munching on chocolate-chip mandel bread. Do you get the same sugar “buzz” when eating your favorite yogurt, cereal or energy bar? How about barbecue sauce on your chicken, green juice, Chinese takeout or peanut butter? Most likely, not so much. But the foods in our regular diet may contain more sugar than your favorite candy bar. A 6 oz. Yoplait Blackberry Harvest Original Yogurt has a whopping 24 grams of sugar. Compare this to the 19 grams of sugar in a 1.55 oz. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
The crux of the issue we face as a nation is that added sugars are piled into our food in places we don’t even recognize. This does not include the naturally occurring sugars derived from whole fruit, vegetables and plain unsweetened milk products. Added sugars contain empty calories without beneficial nutrition and dietary fiber. These are concentrated sources of sugar found in regular soda, sugar, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, desserts, milk products and other grains like cereals and breads. Even elite athletes burning calories at excessively high rates can’t afford a diet filled with empty sugar calories.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting your added sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, the added sugars you consume should be less than 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar. This is about the equivalent of a 16-oz. bottle of regular Sprite. How does that yogurt sound now?
The implications of consuming excessive amounts of added sugar is not just about aesthetics or our jeans feeling snug. There is a growing body of evidence linking an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease with sugar, even in those who are not overweight or obese. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition shows emerging evidence suggesting that greater intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may be associated with abnormal fat accumulation in visceral adipose tissue (VAT), which is linked to the pathogenesis of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
We are surrounded by sugar everywhere we go. The coffee shop. The airport. The checkout line at Old Navy. The hospitals. The gas station. Challenge yourself to examine the amount of sugar in your life with a more mindful eye. Is it lurking in your office? Your gym bag? Your Sunday brunch? Your child’s snacks?
It is up to each of us to decide where to spend our sugar “dollars,” or calories. Let’s spend it wisely so we can lead long, healthy lives. •
Eat whole, real fruit (preferably with the skin or peel on, when applicable) to get your sugar fix, rather than fruit juices or dried fruit with added sugars. Eating a whole piece of fruit instead of drinking juice will provide beneficial nutrition, dietary fiber, satiety and prevent spikes in your blood sugar.
Take a close look at your favorite juice from your local juice bar. Just because your green juice contains kale and spinach does not mean it’s a healthful choice. Let’s look at the Naked Boosted Green Machine, for example: One bottle contains 270 calories and 53 grams of sugar. When heading to the juice bar, use a 3:1 vegetable to fruit ratio to create your own juice combo, rather than choosing a preselected juice from the menu. Select lower-sugar fruits, such as apples, for sweetness and add citrus, such as lemon, grapefruit and lime.
Choose a lower-sugar yogurt (aim for 10 grams or less per serving) and boost the protein. Try a plain Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt and add fresh fruit such as blueberries, strawberries or blackberries.
Cut back on portions rather than going “cold turkey.” If you are drinking 3-4 sodas per day, start by decreasing the amount each week. If you regularly order a 16 oz. soda, switch to an 8 oz. soda. As you eliminate these extra sugars, your body will crave them less often.
Choose naturally sweetened sparkling water rather than soda. You will still get the bubbles, sans the sugar. Sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar intake in the United States.
If you drink coffee, limit the sugar you add to each cup of Joe. Try using a natural sweetener such as stevia instead or add a splash of coconut milk or lightly sweetened nondairy creamer.
Add more healthy fats to your diet to cut sugar cravings. Snacking on raw or even lightly salted almonds or peanuts instead of pretzels or chips can help decrease sugar cravings. Dip bean-based chips in guacamole rather than cheese dips to help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent crashes later in the day.
Switch to dark chocolate with at least 60-70-percent cacao and check the label for added sugars. Choose dark chocolate with less than 3-4 grams of added sugar per serving and keep your serving size to 1-oz. portions. Create your own Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup by adding a layer of natural, unsweetened peanut butter between two pieces of dark chocolate.•
Stacy Goldberg is a nationally recognized nutritional consultant, registered nurse and the CEO of Savorfull (savorfull.com), a Detroit-based company that sources healthy, allergen-friendly foods and provides nutrition-consulting. Savorfull is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies.