I know most of you enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal yesterday, complete with one, two, or maybe even three (????) desserts. I’ll be honest, I was one of the many Americans who devoured a couple pieces of pie yesterday (and topped them both with homemade whipped cream). But yesterday was one of the exceptions to the “rules”. The key to staying slim and healthy around the holidays (and really throughout your life) is to not make the entire three months a “holiday” but instead to splurge on the actual holiday; Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years (or whichever holiday you celebrate). Same with your birthday. Many people turn their birthdays into a week long splurge day. That’s a problem. Splurge on your birthday, sure, but when you splurge all week (or for some people it’s all month) it’s a problem. I think that’s where a lot of us get in trouble. We turn a holiday or a special day into a 2-3 week or month holiday, when it should just be 1 day. Right?!
That leads me to today’s post….
According to the federal Department of Agriculture, the average American eats over 152 pounds of (added) sugar (from all sources) per year. This breaks down to an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar per person per day. Most of it is hidden in prepackaged, frozen, canned, boxed, bottled, jarred and other store-bought items. (Source: “Keeping Your Sugar In Check” )
Do you have any idea how much added sugar the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends? It’s about 6 tsp. for women, and 9 tsp. for men (which equates to 24 grams and 36 grams, respectively). And that doesn’t mean the AHA suggests you aim for that much, it’s actually a suggested limit. And now that we know the average American gets 22 tsp. added sugar per day, is it any wonder why we have a population that is so overweight?
The cereal above has 24 total grams of carbohydrate. Of those 24 grams, 2 grams are from dietary fiber (less than 1 gram is from soluble fiber, and 1 gram is from insoluble fiber), and 10 grams are from sugar. The rest? Those are from “other carbohydrates”.
Carbohydrates (Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen bound together) come in two forms (or three, if you consider fiber):
- Simple mono- or disaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, sucrose, and lactose)
- Complex polysaccharides (found in starchy foods such as legumes, corn, potatoes, bread, and cereals)
- Fiber Fiber is also considered a carbohydrate because it is a type of polysaccharide, which plays a structural role in plants. Fiber is unique because humans cannot digest it.
When you look at a label for milk or plain yogurt, you may see this:
You may not think milk or plain yogurt would have any sugar, but lactose (a type of simple sugar) is found in all dairy products, so that is the “9 g sugar” in this product. On the food label it is considered a carbohydrate, and is under the sub-category “sugar”. In my opinion, there should be an alternative sub-category called “Added Sugar”. Would you know that the plain yogurt above has zero added sugar? Many of you may have known that, but some may have not. The typical amount of natural lactose (sugar) found in dairy products is about 9-12 grams per serving. When you get a yogurt with more sugar than this, you can often deduce that the rest is from added sugars.
How do you know if there is added sugar? You look at the ingredient list. In the yogurt above, there is only milk and cultures on the ingredient list, no added sugar. Yeah! But does that mean the lactose sugar wouldn’t cause weight gain (and possibly other health issues) if you consumed too much? Absolutely not. Sugar is sugar, and no matter the source, it will cause problems if consumed in excess.
What about this dried fruit bar? Check out the ingredients: Pear Puree, Pear Concentrate, Cranberry Concentrate.
According to the nutrition facts, this one bar has 35 grams of carbohydrate, 6 grams of which are from fiber (nice!), and 23 grams of which are from simple sugar (mainly fructose). In this case you might think all of the sugar is from naturally occurring fruit sugar (fructose). However, cranberry concentrate and pear concentrate are considered added sugars. Why? They are basically fruits that have been cooked down and made into sugar. There is really no fiber in fruit concentrates, or any other nutrients, other than empty calories from the fruit’s sugar. The fiber from this dried fruit bar is from the pear puree. So how much of the 23 grams of sugar are added? You’ll never really know, you have to guess. My guess is about 10 grams. But, do you want to know the real reason I wouldn’t eat this bar? It has very little to do with added sugars. The reason I don’t eat bars like this is because I’d much rather eat a more filling and satisfying piece of fresh fruit (ie: an actual apple or a pear) for about 10 grams less total sugar (and more nutrients!).
Always remember that all sugars (even “natural sugars” like those from real fruits and dairy) need to be limited in order to maintain a healthy weight, and healthy body. I generally suggest sticking to a diet of no more than 3 cups of dairy (dairy has sugar, and too much dairy means too much sugar, who cares if it’s natural!?) 1.5-2 cups fruit (yes, you can get too much fruit, because once again, natural sugars add up to weight gain too!) and ~150-200 calories of “extras” per day (this is where the added sugars fit in).
Reduce your added sugar by doing the following:
1) Choose plain yogurt instead of flavored
2) Choose plain oatmeal instead of flavored oatmeal
3) Add flavor to your oats and/or yogurt by adding things like non-caloric sweeteners, unsweetened cocoa powder, or fresh fruits/berries
4) Don’t make sweetened beverages a staple in your diet
5) Look for reduced-sugar versions of your favorite foods (Such as jellies and jams)
6) Choose cereals and snack bars with 10 grams of sugar, or less (especially if there is zero fruit in the bars or cereal)
7) Learn the different terms used on labels, which mean “added sugar”. Here is a great list.
Want to read more about added sugars, and health? Check out this recent article from Today’s Dietitian Magazine. It’s worth reading if you have the time. This article was also interesting, because it hinted at new higher prices for sugary foods. Wouldn’t that be nice?! Changing our environment, one step at a time.