My husband’s family has a history of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. His parents have set a goal to cut down on the amount of sugar they eat. I have decided to make that a goal for my family as well.
Sugar has a bad rap, but to some degree it has been earned. It can contribute to obesity, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
The average American eats and drinks 22 teaspoons – or almost half a cup – of added sugar each day. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat only 6 teaspoons per day and 9 teaspoons for men.
Here are 6 truths and about the sugar and artificial sweeteners we eat every day:
You’re born with a sweet tooth
Believe it or not, humans are hardwired at birth to prefer sweet. That’s because sugars are a type of carbohydrate, and when we eat carbs, we stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical called serotonin. Sugar just makes us feel better. But, our sweet tooth adds up: the average American consumes about 142 pounds of sugar every year.
Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes
While sugar on its own does not cause diabetes, too much sugar can. Type 2 diabetes occurs when you gain weight and eat a high-calorie diet – your body can’t clear the extra glucose from your blood. If glucose isn’t quickly processed by your body, it can destroy tissue and lead to additional health problems.
High-fructose corn syrup is like sugar
High-fructose corn syrup is processed from corn and is very close to sugar. Both are made up of fructose and glucose and contain about the same amount of calories. Why do we see high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient in so many processed foods? Corn syrup is cheaper to produce than sugar. It’s also easy to use in packaged foods and drinks.
Does corn syrup make you fat? Not necessarily on its own. Obesity is about eating too many calories, but many of those calories may be hidden in foods as high-fructose corn syrup.
Sugar likes to hide
That brings us to our next truth. Sugar likes to hide in foods. Even low-fat and “diet” foods can have extra sugar to improve their taste. Sugar also adds bulk, texture and thickness to take the place of fat.
To spot hidden sugars, you can check the nutrition label for “carbs as sugars.” You should also check the ingredients list for items ending in “ose,” such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, and maltose. These are all forms of sugar.
Blood sugar spikes are bad
In addition to preventing obesity and diabetes, another reason to cut down on sugar is to avoid blood sugar spikes. Even if your weight is on target, you can be shortening your life by causing spikes in your blood sugar level. Repeated spikes in blood sugar put stress on the organs that control metabolism for your body. Over time, it takes a toll.
Artificial sweeteners may not be better
So, I can just eat artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, right? Wrong. You can still gain weight even if you are using artificial sweeteners. There’s also no proof that the substitutes reduce the risk of diabetes. Most nutritionists say that you will be healthier if you eat a few squares of chocolate rather than loading up on artificial sweeteners all day.
What are some ways to cut down on sugar?
By making a few adjustments to your diet, you can cut out some of your unnecessary sugar consumption:
Eat whole grains – Swap white bread, pasta and rice for whole grain versions.
Cut down on fruit juice – Drink one glass of fruit juice a day, or you can even dilute it with water.
Reduce the sugar in recipes – Cut out some of the sugar in recipes or use spices to add flavor and taste.
Watch out for sugar-free labels – These foods often contain artificial sweeteners. While they taste sweet, they don’t satisfy the sweet tooth. Your brain gets confused and can lead to over-eating.
Also beware of low-fat and diet labels – These foods tend to be high in sugar to add flavor.
Reduce sugar in hot drinks – Cut the sugar from coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and tea. Use cinnamon to flavor hot drinks or gradually adjust to no sugar.
Snack on fruit or nuts – Instead of grabbing a sweet treat, eat more healthy snacks like fresh fruit, nuts and even yogurt.
Replace some carbs with lean protein – Add more fish, chicken and turkey to your diet. These protein-rich foods slow digestion so that you have less cravings between meals.
Before you throw out your sugar bowl and every sweet snack, remember that cutting down on your sugar intake is a process. If you try to eliminate all sugar from your diet at once, you will be very unhappy and dissatisfied. Cut down on your sugar intake slowly over time. As you start to feel healthier and more balanced, you should find that you don’t miss the extra sugar!