High sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, and overall poor nutrition. Sugars are “empty calorie” carbohydrates. The World Health Organization recently recommended limiting sugar to 25 grams per day for an average person. That’s equal to six level teaspoons or two level tablespoons of sugar. The challenge isn’t how many teaspoons we add to our coffee or sprinkle over our oats. It’s the huge quantities that seem to be secretly added to our prepared and packaged foods that make it nearly impossible to abide by the guideline.
Having a cinnamon bun (59 grams of sugar) with your coffee, a 12-ounce can of soda (33 grams of sugar) at lunch and a cup of ice cream (34 grams of sugar) after dinner dramatically tips the scale to sugar overload! Even with good intentions, we may reach for fruit-flavored yogurts, fat-free cookies and iced green tea drinks only to find two or more teaspoons lurking in each serving. It’s not only the pure white stuff that causes the problem. The more natural types like honey, sucanat, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey and coconut palm sugar are also adding to the empty calories in our diets.
Many are misinformed that foods like milk, fruit and sweet potato containing naturally occurring sugars are the culprit. For example, milk and dairy products contain a natural milk sugar called lactose, made from two sugar components, glucose and galactose. Even people with lactose intolerance (a deficiency of the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose) can consume cultured products like yogurt and kefir. Many can tolerate milk in small quantities when consumed with other foods. The bottom line is that wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy have good nutritional value and provide the level of sweetness that Mother Nature intended for us to enjoy.
So the only way out of this dilemma is if the food industry takes responsibility and decreases the amount of sugar added to foods during manufacturing. The problem is that both kids and adults like the super-sweet taste of foods processed with sweetener. Food companies don’t want to lose loyal customers. If food companies comply and replace sugar with super-sweet, non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or other sugar substitutes, more havoc may arise. That’s because we just don’t know the long-term effects of a diet laced with alternative sweeteners. According to the book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy, the key is to retrain our taste buds to enjoy foods without too many added sugars (salts and fat). Using whole fruit or fruit purees like applesauce in desserts is a simple approach to cutting back on sugar. Choosing foods in their natural packages like a banana or unsweetened dried figs satisfies the sweet tooth while providing fiber, vitamins and minerals. A far cry from empty calorie carbohydrates!
There is enough evidence supporting the fact that limiting sugar intake can lead to healthier, longer lives. Isn’t that enough to demand a reduction of added sugar and sugar substitutes in our food supply?
Written by Layne Lieberman, RD, copyright 2014, (Appears in Huffington Post UK)