Excessive sugar has not only been linked to obesity, but it can also lead to weight gain, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Sadly, though, sugar isn’t just about a luscious dessert any more. According to Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,“Food scientists have deliberately bumped up the sugar (and salt) content of foods so they are more addictive.”
This surge in sugar content didn’t happen yesterday; it has been going on since the late eighties/early nineties, when food manufactures deluged the public with low-fat foods.
No fat? No flavor. Add sugar so it tastes good.
The net result? The majority of humans, regardless of weight, release double the amount of insulin today than 30 years ago.
How it works
Here is a simple diagram to explain what happens when we eat sugar:
Plain and simple, the more sugar we eat, the more insulin we secrete and fat we store. It’s a never-ending cycle that is tough to break. What’s worse, with more energy socked away for later use, we have less energy to burn as fuel now, and thus we feel more lethargic.
Is this eating to feel good?
Where’s the sugar?
We’re not just getting sugar from desserts anymore, and it starts with breakfast. In one ¾ cup serving of Post’s popular Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, you’ll inherit 26 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of sugar. In Quaker Oats Life Cereal, you’ll consume almost the same (25 grams of carbohydrates; 6 grams of sugar). Not to pick on Starbucks, but a blueberry scone contains 61 carbohydrate grams and 17 grams of sugars (4+ teaspoons!).
Moving to a popular lunch for kids, Lunchables Maxed Out contains nine grams of saturated fat and 13 teaspoons of sugar. And at dinner, a half-cup serving of Prego Traditional spaghetti sauce contains the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as two-plus Oreo cookies.
And I haven’t even gotten started on beverages, such as soda, tea and 100% juice, some of the biggest culprits of needless sugar. For example, a mere eight ounces of apple juice contains 26 grams of sugar, or 6 1/2 teaspoons.
How much is too much?
Intentional or not, there is no RDA or USDA guideline for how much sugar a person should eat. The American Heart Association recommends men limit added sugar to 36 g, or 9 tsp., per day and that women limit added sugar to 24 g, or 6 tsp., per day
To make matters even more confusing, “added” sugars are not listed out separately on a food label. You have to look at the ingredients list to determine sources of added sugars, which includes everything from high fructose corn syrup to honey to molasses to maple syrup.
Strategies to kick the sugar habit
Unless you need to remove sugar from your diet for health reasons (e.g., diabetes), then learn to cut back without completely cutting it out. Complete deprivation, in my opinion, may later lead to extreme eating. By enjoying something sweet in moderation, you experience pleasure without the guilt, and feel physically better while you’re at it. After all, the American Heart Association recommends you limit sugar consumption, not leave it out altogether.
Here a few ideas to help you cut some “sugar” corners throughout your day:
Cut out sugary drinks. That includes everything from soft drinks to orange juice to those decadent coffee beverages. A Mocha Frappuccino tastes great, but 9.5 ounces costs you 31 grams of sugar! 100% juices are not much better, as they contain as much or more sugar than soda, with little/no health benefit.
Start the day with a low/no sugar breakfast. This list from Spark People shares 10 cereals that won’t load you up on sugar, including selections like Spoon Size Shredded Wheat from Post (my personal favorite). Eggs and toast are another low-sugar way to start the day, with protein to provide energy all morning long.
Think before you give it to your kids. There’s no denying how much kids love sugar, but too much of a good thing can have negative health consequences. Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes, is now diagnosed in kids as young as nine years old.
A child who eats a sugary cereal for breakfast, drinks juice, chocolate milk and soda throughout the day, and subsequently eats lots of pasta or other high-carb meals at lunch and dinner, is consuming too many carbohydrates relative to other macronutrients. This means the pancreas is working in overdrive to produce insulin.
Visualize teaspoons. Whether you are feeding yourself or your little ones, think about how many teaspoons of sugar you’re putting in your system. Every 4 grams of sugar yields a teaspoon of sugar, and that visual alone may be adequate to restrain you. Stacey Antine of Health Barn USA suggests actually measuring out the teaspoons of sugar for kids to see what they’re eating (though it’s helpful for adults, too!).
Read food labels. Even if you don’t buy a lot of processed foods, you may be getting sugar in breads, crackers and other less conspicuous sources. A few sneaky surprises include Asian sauces, fruit spreads, salad dressings, yogurt and, as already mentioned, spaghetti sauces.
Share and skip. If you like dessert as much as I do, try sharing it with a friend or family member. You may get enough sugar to satisfy that sweet tooth without overindulging. Likewise, enjoy a piece of pie or cake without going back for seconds. If you have the discipline to wait twenty minutes, there’s a great likelihood you’ll skip seconds altogether.
Try a no sugar experiment. Our family carried out a one-week experiment sans sugar and it was a terrific way for our whole family to recognize how much sugar we eat and when, as well as easy ways to cut it out of the usual routine.
Drink responsibly. For those of you wondering about alcohol, according to Livestrong, the average glass of white wine contains 1.5 g of sugar. A single serving of beer doesn’t contain sugar. Similarly, 80-proof spirits or “hard” liquors don’t contain sugar, while a glass of red wine contains less than 1 gram. Note, however, that maltose levels produced from the germination of grains in beer do impact blood glucose levels.