Written By: Evonne Varady
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love coming up with a great costume and all the activities that come with the fall season. I also dread it a bit because it seems that the next three months are a challenging part of a healthy lifestyle with all the treats that follow: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then back to New Year’s and resolutions. It starts with a snack size Snickers and then turns into a scary looking 15 pounds on the scale. What is the common factor with all of these holidays? Sugar piled with more sugar! Want something scarier than witches and ghost on Halloween? Google sugar. Sugar equals toxic, addicting, and deadly. Yikes! That will make you drop that Snickers quick. Let’s learn the sugar basics.
Sugar is a natural ingredient that has been part of our diet for thousands of years. Sugars are carbohydrates that provide energy for the body. The most common sugar in the body is glucose which your brain, major organs, and muscles need to function properly.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year. If you eat 2,000 calories per day, your goal is to eat less than 200 calories (50 grams) of added sugar. The American Heart Association is even stricter. It recommends women consume no more than 100 calories (24 grams) of added sugar per day, and men no more than 150 calories (36 grams) of added sugar per day.
According to the USDA, sweetened fruit drinks account for 10% of the total added sugars we consume. Candy and cake come in at 5% each. Ready-to-eat cereal comprises 4% of the total, as well as table sugar and honey, cookies and brownies, and syrups and other toppings. The biggest chunk, making up 26% of added sugars, comes from a variety of prepared foods like ketchup, canned vegetables and fruits, and peanut butter.
The body does not distinguish between the different types of sugar and breaks them down in exactly the same way. For example, the sucrose in an apple is broken down in exactly the same way as the sucrose in the snack size snickers. All sugars are carbohydrates, known as “simple” carbs, since they’re composed of just one sugar molecule. For example, the label on a can of Pepsi reads 41 grams of carbs and 41 grams of sugar. This means that every single carbohydrate comes from sugar. The label on a package of plain oatmeal will read 18 grams of carbs and only 1 gram of sugar. Almost all of the carbs in oatmeal are made up of long chains of sugar molecules called “complex” carbs. Oatmeal, along with sweet potatoes, wheat breads, rice and corn, is a complex carb, also known as a starch.
We have so many sweet foods available that it is hard not to eat too much sugar. Too much sugar (which often comes with too much fat) can cause you to gain weight. Any excess calories will lead to overweight and sugar is one of the easiest things to eat in excess. We need to learn moderation.
Here are some sweet tricks to help:
1. Pick low sugar produce. If you’re aiming to eat less sugar overall, pick the fruits and veggies with the lowest sugar load like lemons, limes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, mushrooms, green beans, and zucchini. Essentially all veggies are low in sugar. To compare, 1 cup raspberries contains 5 grams of sugar, 1 cup black beans contains less than 1 gram of sugar, and a medium red potato contains less than 3 grams of sugar. Keep in mind, low sugar intake doesn’t necessarily mean low carbohydrate.
2. Know your portions. Following a low sugar diet requires some diligence in knowing how much you should be eating. In general, most people should consume 2 fruits (or 2 cups) and at least 3 cups of veggies per day. On average 1 serving of fruit contains 15 grams of sugar. Ideally, try to space out your servings so that you aren’t getting a big sugar rush all at once.
3. Eat whole and fresh. Limit fruit juices and dried fruit if you are watching the sugar intake. Generally speaking, just 4 fluid ounces (½ cup) of 100% fruit juice and ¼ cup unsweetened dried fruit is equivalent to 1 piece or 1 cup of fresh, whole fruit.
4. Learn the label lingo. The food label doesn’t differentiate between added and natural sugars (though it may in the future), instead it lumps them all together. To get natural sugar sources check the ingredient list to know if there are any added sugars in the product. Sugar lurks behind these words in the ingredient list: molasses, organic cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, malt sugar, corn syrup, honey, syrup, and words ending in “ose” such as, dextrose, lactose, maltose, fructose, glucose, and sucrose.
5. Compare products. Looking for the lowest sugar foods? Check the nutrition label to see which product is lowest in sugar. Don’t be fooled by “low sugar” or “diet foods” as they are often packed with artificial sugars, which is another blog for another day. Bottom line, eat real “natural” convenience foods lowest in added sugar.
6. Track it! Logging your food in MyFitnessPal can help with staying on top of your sugar intake and goals, so that you become aware of how much sugar you are really ingesting since they can sure add up fast.
7. Set boundaries for your sweet tooth. Do you have a mean sweet tooth? Set limits on when and how you’re going to enjoy your sweets. Maybe you have ice cream once per week, or possibly you’ll include a dark chocolate square after dinner nightly. Setting boundaries around what sweet treats are worth the indulgence, when it’s appropriate to enjoy them, and how much you can enjoy will keep you from reaching in the office candy jar out of habit.
8. Lower it gradually. Instead of cutting sugar cold turkey, lower your intakes slowly. If you usually eat sweets after lunch and dinner, start by taking it down to one meal a day.
9. Clean out the pantry. If you have tempting foods in the kitchen, you might need to do a little pantry detox. Go out for the ice cream sundae instead of bringing a carton into the house.
Keep your hand out of the Snickers bag and live life fitter!