Summer is closely approaching and many of us are looking forward to trips to the beach, brunches al fresco and relaxed “Rosé all day” weekends. Despite the anticipation of warm air and sun-kissed skin, many of us are dreading shedding the layers of forgiving fabrics for their thinner, sheerer clingy-er counterparts. The pressure to get into a swimsuit has many re-upping gym memberships, consulting personal trainers and reconnecting with our accountability partner who has also fallen off the wagon.
Exercise is wonderful for overall health and looking and feeling great, but many people overlook the importance of eating a healthy balanced diet – not for the short term to get in shape but for the long haul. The saying is true: you can’t out train bad eating habits.
Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of what we are really consuming and how it is affecting our health. This brings me to sugar. Here in the United States, sugar is an unregulated ingredient in the foods we eat. Look at any nutrition fact label and you will see that fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates and even fiber are given a breakdown of percent daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Although sugar is included on a nutrition label, there is not a daily percent value assigned making it easy to ignore and not factor in with our food choices. This is a huge mistake. As a result of this lack of information, many of us are unknowingly consuming way too much sugar. Long term, the over consumption of sugar contributes to a plethora of health concerns, including Diabetes Type 2, heart disease and even cancer. Long term, too much sugar can cause us to hold on to extra unwanted pounds as unused sugar turns into stored energy (better known as fat), for later use by our bodies. Unfortunately, this stored energy doesn’t get used and we end up with too much – hence the disease processes that follow.
So why is it that we don’t look at sugar as a serious contender with our weight management and overall health? In the 1960’s the sugar industry heads came together to form the Sugar Research Foundation to work directly with Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department to fund research that supported the link of fat to Coronary Heart Disease. Why would the sugar industry be so concerned with heart health research? It turns out, in the 1950’s reports were beginning to surface questioning sugar as a quality carbohydrate and later linking it with Coronary Heart Disease. The sugar industry saw an opportunity not only to protect their product from being demonized in the food industry but also to boost sugar sales by making fat the scapegoat and reversing possible negative attention. If people were going to cut back on their fat consumption as a result of condemning research, what was going to replace fat in their diets? Well, sugar of course. So here we are almost 70 years later, dealing with the repercussions of food industry paid research, wasting in an epidemic of heart disease and diabetes.
Diabetes Type 2 once known as adult onset diabetes is now being seen in children as young at 5 years old. It’s hard not to love the frothy sweet coffee drinks from our favorite trendy chain cafes. Unfortunately, our bodies are paying the ultimate price as beverages high in added sugar are linked with an increase in visceral fat, the fat surrounding your vital organs i.e. heart and liver. More recent studies have shown the link between sugar and addiction, illustrating that many of the same neurotransmitters fire the same in the human brain when we eat sugar as when someone is using stimulating drugs like cocaine.
According to the American Heart Association, the daily intake of sugar should cap off at about 24 grams per day for women or 36 grams a day for men. This amount speaks for added sugar like the sugar found in soft drinks, unlike naturally occurring sugar such as that found in whole fruit. There are about 4 grams in every teaspoon. That is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. So if 3,800 calories contribute to gaining one pound and each gram of sugar contains 4 calories then it takes 875 grams of sugar to equal one pound. Although 875 grams of sugar sounds like so much excess that it’s nothing for most of us to worry about, proceed with caution as sugar consumption can easily accumulate, especially with all the hidden sugars added to processed foods. According to a 2012 article in Forbes Magazine, the average American adult consumes an average of 22 grams a sugar a day; a fair share of that is hiding in beverages. That’s about 12-16 grams over the suggested daily intake. With daily averages this high, it’s not hard to see how quickly the grams can add up.
“Healthy” Foods with High Added Sugar Content:
Snack Bars/ Meal Replacement Bars: Back in undergrad, my dentist informed me that snack bars are the worst thing for your teeth (at the time I was eating lots of snack bars and the effects were quite visible to his professional eye). Snack bars can be tricky. Let’s take a glimpse at the Kind Bars brand, for instance, a natural snack bar containing lots of goodness from nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate and sometimes yogurt. If you look closely, the ingredient label lists sugar amounts as high as 16 grams.
This added sugar is listed as coming from “natural” sources like honey or agave – your body recognizes and processes it all the same. Fortunately, Kind Bars come in many different flavor varieties with added sugar amounts as low as 5 grams. So with a little investigating, you can make a smarter choice in the grocery aisle.
Yogurt: Plain non-fat yogurt is going to have about 9-10 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving, which is not of concern. It’s the added sugar which often is an additional 10 grams per one cup serving that proves problematic. Look for varieties with no added sugar.
Boxed Cereal: Sugar is added to many box cereals to improve taste. Despite being advertised as a healthy “adult” breakfast option, Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran has 14 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup serving. Granola is another “healthy” favorite that can have sizeable amounts of added sweeteners.
Coffee Drinks: A 12 oz. (tall) Starbucks Carmel Frappuccino made with non-fat milk and without whipped cream contains a whopping 42 grams of sugar. This drink alone puts you 18 grams over your daily added sugar quota.
Cocktails: Happy hour can be the downfall to a day of nutrition dense eating. Cocktails often contain mixers and juices high in added sugar. The average restaurant mojito can have upward of 25 grams of sugar per serving. Bummer.
Pre-made Smoothies: Pre-made smoothies seem like a healthy snack when you’re on the run as they will boast nutritious ingredients and no added sugar. But the flip side is they’re all fruit juice without the fiber content found in fruit and the body processes them like all high sugar beverages. Bolt House Farms Green Goddess has 30 grams of sugar per serving. Proceed with caution.
Canned and Boxed Soups: Read the labels very carefully on boxed and canned soups- as these tend to be very high in sugar as well as sodium. Campbell’s Harvest Tomato with Basil Soup has 16 grams of sugar per one cup serving. It’s not common for prepared soups to have such a high sugar content but just read labels prior to purchase to be sure you know what you’re getting.
Salad Dressing: Low fat and non-fat varieties of salad dressing tend to have added sugar to help with flavor. Salad dressings prepared with monounsaturated fats like olive oil and grape seed oil that are low in sodium and sugar are actually a healthier option when used in moderation. Try making your own salad dressing at home and you many never go back to store-bought dressing again!
Sports Drinks/Vitamin Water/ Coconut Water: Most people are not training hard enough in the gym to require sports drinks instead of water for fluid replacement. A 12oz bottle of Powerade has 21 grams of sugar, so it’s probably best to leave these for the professional athletes.
Condiments: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, the list can go on and on. As Americans we love to dip, dunk, sink and baste our foods in sauce. Most ketchup (unless otherwise stated) is made with high fructose corn syrup and over 3 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Who eats just one tablespoon of ketchup?
What I want to leave you with is this: the food industry (much like the pharmaceutical industry) pays lots of money annually to fund research and marketing that sways in their favor. We can rely on FDA but so much. Be a protective gatekeeper of what goes in your body. Good in. Good out.
For further reading on the history of the sugar industry and check out the article below: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/13/493739074/50-years-ago-sugar-industry-quietly-paid-scientists-to-point-blame-at-fat