Cutting Back on Sugar: Too Sweet


Actually, the average American does eat that much sugar every day-34 teaspoons or nearly three quarters of a cup. It's not sitting there beside your plate for you to eat at will, of course. There is a good bit in that bowl of ice cream you had after dinner, the muffin during your morning coffee break and that can of pop you downed in mid afternoon. But at least some of it is carefully hidden in foods you'd never call sweet.

 If you could cut your sugar consumption by 20 to 30 percent, you'd still be consuming a lot of sugar. But you would also be much healthier (as well as thinner).
Sugar is the new alcohol, some say; others compare it to tobacco. It's addictive: the more you eat, the more you want. That's why a gradual approach is best.

An international group of scientists and medical experts has initiated a new campaign known as Action on Sugar with a goal of reducing sugar consumption primarily by targeting "hidden sugars" in foods. It's actually the same group that previously took action against sodium in foods under the name Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).

Reduce Added Sugars

The Action on Sugar group's goal is to reduce added sugars in packaged foods by 30 percent. And this, it is believed, will cut calorie consumption by 70 to 100 calories a day. You can do the math yourself to see what that would do to your weight. But what's more important are the benefits it would provide for good health.

Sugar calories are empty; they provide no nutritional value. Although sugar has fewer calories per gram than fat, it is believed to be a more important factor in weight gain and abdominal fat.

Sugar apparently does not trip the appetite meter in the brain as other foods do. You may feel full for a short time after eating a sugary snack, but your hunger pangs return more quickly.

Fructose, in particular, has been found to alter satiety, resulting in increased food intake. It stimulates dopamine, a pleasure-producing neurochemical and may lower a person's metabolism-meaning fewer calories burned during rest or activity. Rats fed fructose tend to develop fatty liver and the metabolic syndrome.

Studies have found dietary sugar to be associated with high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. An analysis of national health surveys involving more than 30,000 American adults found that persons getting 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar were three times more likely to die of heart problems than those who consumed the least sugar-less than 10 percent of daily calories. The increased risk was found even among persons who were not overweight.

A teaspoon has about 16 calories; a 12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains about eight teaspoons of added sweeteners.

The American Heart Association recommends that men should have no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day; women, no more than six. You'll probably have to cut your sugar consumption by more than 30 percent to reach that level, but it can be a gradual process.

Action on Sugar believes that reductions in sugar added to prepared foods will be largely unnoticed but can have a significant effect on obesity.
As with the salt initiative, manufacturers will be asked to voluntarily reduce added sugars in their products and to offer more reduced sugar alternatives. But a major part of the campaign must be through education-letting consumers know the effects of a high-sugar diet and teaching them how to cut back.

For most Americans, beverages are the major source of added sugar. Switching to fruit or energy drinks is not much of an improvement in terms of calories. Even 100 percent fruit juice does not offer the nutritional benefits of the fruit itself since the fiber has been removed.

Diet sodas free you of the sugar and calories, but they don't take away your sweet tooth. And you might be tempted to satisfy your desires later in the day with a piece of candy. Sweeteners also tend to deplete the body of chromium, a nutrient necessary for blood sugar metabolism.

You may consider yourself virtuous if you skip dessert most nights after dinner. But how about the sugary snacks you had during the day: the doughnut with morning coffee, the candy bar in the afternoon, the bread and jam after lunch? Even dried fruit has a lot of calories and fructose.

There is no need to deprive yourself of all sweets, but pay attention to what you're eating. And set some limits for yourself.

Again, a gradual approach works best. Limit yourself to four squares of chocolate after dinner. Then cut back to three next month.

Learn to look for "total sugars" on the label. If you divide the number of grams by four, that gives you the number of teaspoons.

Foods that you don't consider sweet may have considerably more sugar than you suspect. These include yogurt, bologna, tomato soup, pretzels, Worcestershire sauce, packaged bread, salad dressing, tomato sauce, and cheese spread. Many products sold as low-fat come with added sugar to help the medicine go down.
Know the names commonly used on labels to describe added sugars:
  • corn syrup,
  • fructose,
  • high-fructose corn syrup,
  • maltose,
  • dextrose,
  • sucrose,
  • invert sugar,
  • fruit juice concentrate,
  • honey,
  • maple syrup.
Brown sugar, turbinado sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, organic sugar-they are all sugar. All have 16 calories per teaspoon.

If sugar isn't listed first among ingredients, it may well be that the total sugar content is hidden behind several of these names. Honey, maple syrup and molasses may taste better and be natural, but they are still basically sugar.

Finally, the best way to avoid sugar-and the best way to eat-is to buy fresh foods, then prepare them and cook them yourself...using only as much sugar as is required for flavor and nutrition. But not too much.

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