I recently caught the end of a radio show and heard an interview with a bio-chemist who was speaking about some of the ills of eating too much sugar. I wasn’t able to catch his name, but what he said about sugar really got me thinking. Labels on food packages reveal a lot more than just calories. If we look to see how many grams of sugar are in a serving, we can do some quick math to decide whether the count is high or low. According to the bio-chemist, we can divide the sugar content (grams per serving) by the number four and that will indicate the number in spoonfuls (tsp.) of sugar we are actually eating. Since I was almost home when I heard the interview, I decided to look in my own cabinets to test this out. I grabbed a box of granola bars and saw they have 12 grams of sugar per serving. If what he said is true, there are about three spoonfuls of sugar in one granola bar!
Yikes, that’s a lot of sugar. The gentleman on the radio said we should be trying to avoid sugar, especially fructose, as much as possible. Fruit juice is particularly bad since most of the real nutrition from the fruit has been processed out of the juice and replaced by sugar. He suggested eating a piece of fruit instead of drinking juice (even if it says 100% or No added sweeteners). If we are thirsty?…drink water, he said.
The adverse effects of sugar are well known. Nearly all simple sugars are metabolized quickly and disrupt insulin levels, contributing to most chronic illness. According to Buffalo Times sugar is the culprit for many ailments. It suppresses the immune system, is addictive, a common allergen and a significant cause of obesity. Personally, sugar makes me tired. At first, after eating something sugary, I feel pretty good and have a boost in energy, but after the “sugar high” wears off, I come crashing down and I’m left feeling even more fatigued than before I ate. You would think that feeling would be enough for me to just stay away from the stuff…but I guess that is what they mean when they say it is addictive.
In foods, hidden sugars may appear under a variety of names on a label. Ingredients are listed in order of volume. Look for the following ingredients. If any of these appear at the top of the list, the food is most likely high in sugar: ingredients that end in “ose”; brown sugar; corn syrup, corn syrup solids; dextrose; fructose; glucose; grape juice; high-fructose corn syrup; honey; malt syrup; maltodextrin; mannitol; maple syrup; molasses; raw sugar; sorbitol; sorghum; sucrose; and turbinado xylitol.
What to do? Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is a first trick. Most of the whole foods are found there. Natural sugar found in fruits is the good kind and is something we shouldn’t avoid. It can also help to curb the cravings for the wrong kind of sugar. I like strawberries and raspberries (actually almost any kind of berry) and they are tasty enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Oranges are also good for curbing the sweet cravings (grapefruit can do it too, even though they are not as sweet tasting usually). Stocking up on fruit so that is is readily available is one way to avoid snacking on cookies or energy bars that are high in sugar. Another suggestion is to buy grapes and freeze them. Because they are so cold, they are refreshing and they are a great snack when you are looking for something sweet. Although grapes are expensive in the winter months, they hardly cost more than a package of Oreos and they contain lots of nutrients but not lots of calories. I also just discovered dried blueberries, which I love. While dried is not as good as the real deal, it is better than candy or cookies for sure! My husband likes dried apricots, and my kids like the mix of tropical dried fruit. Sometimes I just want something sweet and only chocolate will do. Dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate and comes in lots of varieties. Look for the ones that have a high cacao content.
While we may crave sugar, it is not something our bodies need…especially not in the quantities that we Americans indulge in. There IS a difference between naturally occurring sucrose in plants and the sucrose found in granulated sugar and high fructose corn syrup often used to sweeten processed foods.Both granulated sugar and high fructose corn syrup go through a refining process…they are called “empty calories” because they offer no nutritional value. In addition, they are addictive and rob our bodies of energy and health.
Since there are plenty of good alternatives (like those mentioned above), we don’t have to act as if we are deprived. However, we need to be careful about sugar substitutes, as they can be just as bad for us. Nutrisweet and Splenda have been the subject of a lot of negative press lately. Other sugar alternatives that can be used to sweeten foods are Agave syrup and Stevia. I will do a little research and report back here on 9 Kid Fitness with information about the positives and negatives of these two sweeteners.
What do you know about sugar alternatives?