How many of us have thought about eating better to lose weight? How many of us have thought of eating less sugar to eat better? I have a very active sweet tooth and am raising both of my hands. Sugar is in nearly every food we eat. It occurs naturally. It is also added. Let’s talk about both and learn how to spot it.
To keep all of this in perspective, it’s helpful to remember the American Heart Association’s recommendations for sugar intake.
- Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day.
- Women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Consider that one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar! There goes your whole day’s allotment in one slurp.
American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, more than 3 times the recommended amount for women and 2 times for men. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar annually – that’s six, 10-pound bowling balls.
Naturally occurring sugar (such as in fruit) contains fiber which offers a slower, more natural absorption which the body is designed to do. Compare this to added sugar which is like calling a play out to the quarterback requiring the football be tossed in a basketball hoop. Hey body of mine, take this substance with minimal nutrients and excess calories that you don’t know how to break down and do something with it anyway. Hey body, do this day after day.
The body digests added sugar rather quickly challenging the pancreas to increase insulin output over and over. If the pancreas cannot keep up with the demands, blood sugar levels rise. Insulin resistance (or insulin sensitivity) can result. This is a temporary or chronic condition in which the body does not respond as it should to insulin, a hormone the pancreas makes that is essential for regulating blood sugar levels. Specifically, your muscle, fat, and liver cells cannot efficiently take the glucose from the blood or store it. With respect to the analogy earlier, this causes a penalty or flag on the play and could rename your endzone as prediabetes (or a variation).
The Cleveland Clinic notes: more than 84 million adults in the United States have prediabetes. That’s about 1 out of every 3 adults. Scientists believe excess body fat (especially around the belly) and physical inactivity are the two main contributing factors to insulin resistance. Genetic conditions can also play a role.
Sugar can also cause inflammation, increase triglycerides (type of fat in the blood), and boost the levels of dopamine in the brain (creating a feel-good sugar high leaving you to want more). Remember when you asked your body to do this day after day? This is why it is important to understand total sugar versus added sugar.
The FDA issued its final rule to update the Nutrition Facts label on May 27, 2016. The regulations require added sugars be included on the Nutrition Facts label (effective 2018 for most labels) and established a Daily Value for added sugars.
The FDA defines total sugars as sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruits as well as any added sugars that may be present in the product. There is no Daily Value* for total sugars because no recommendation has been made for the total amount to eat in a day.
Added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. They do not include naturally occurring sugars that are found in milk, fruits, and vegetables. The Daily Value for added sugars is 50 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. You read that correctly. The FDA requires a DV for added sugars, but not total sugars. Note, the food represented on the label below contains 23g of added sugars and zero fiber. As a reminder, naturally occurring sugar usually contains fiber for that slower, natural release.
There are well over 50 different names for added sugar. This can be overwhelming when reading a list of ingredients on the back of your packaging. In addition to an ingredient with the actual word sugar (brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, etc), added sugar can also be listed as: agave nectar/syrup, barley malt, (high fructose) corn syrup, dextrose, demerara, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice (concentrate), glucose, honey, lactose, malt, rice syrup, and sucrose (among dozens of others).
Sugar is sugar. Know what you are eating. The body isn’t necessarily designed to process all these convenience foods with added sugar and sit around. Read the nutrition information on the back of your package instead of relying on whatever information is offered on the front. Is a high consumption of added sugar triggering you to crave more sugar? Could you satisfy that sweet tooth with less sugar? It’s possible. These are my personal tips at decreasing added sugar in my own home.
- Know which sugary foods offer you the most satisfaction. I like my chocolate donut on Sundays. I eat the entire donut after a nice plate of eggs and maybe a slice of sweet potato. It makes me feel happy and satisfied. I don’t have to eat sugary foods all day to find out I really just wanted the donut.
- Cut some sugar in your baked goods. Does your cookie recipe call for 1 cup of sugar? Try using ¾ cup instead and add a bit of extra vanilla.
- Do you have the need for the Fun Size candy bar each day? Save it for later in the day after eating a balanced meal of lean protein, vegetables, and minimally processed carbs. Eat the Fun Size candy bar.
- Are you finding yourself within steps of overindulging? Try some fruit with yogurt first. Step away from the area and drink some water. Maybe even go for a walk. Get moving. Is it the environment triggering the binge or could you be hungry in need of actual nutrients?
- Don’t keep it in the house. Make that added sugar inaccessible eliminating mindless temptation.