May 12, 2011

No Need to Delete Sugars and Sweets

appforhealthThis guest blog was written on request for in response to Julie's blog A Week to Beat Your Cravings for Sweets. I want to thank Julie for being open to dialoging about key nutrition topics:

Can people be “sugar addicted”? Not likely! But are we slurping, sipping and chewing too much sugar? Absolutely!

American Heart Association research shows that as of 2009 Americans down, on average, 22 teaspoons of sugar per day (Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health. (Not surprising when one 20 ounce soft drink contains 15 teaspoons!) Most of these 22 teaspoons aren’t the white granulated stuff we keep a bowl and/or canister in our kitchens and spoon in coffee, sprinkle on cereal or bake with. The vast majority is from the so-called “added sugars” - the common ones are: high-fructose corn syrup, other corn-based sweeteners and sucrose.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report our top three sources of added sugars are: regular soft drinks (37%), grain-based desserts (12%), and fruit drinks (12%). And speaking of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, a loud and clear message is REDUCE ADDED SUGARS! Why? Oh, let me count the reasons:
1) empty calories with nil nutrition
2) concentrated source of calories
3) in excess packs on the pounds

Are there “metabolic consequences” of added sugars, per se? The verdict is still out. What’s well known is that in people at risk of type 2 diabetes excess calories leads to excess weight which can trigger the inflammation/insulin resistance switch. As we age and gain weight metabolic syndrome can beget prediabetes, which can beget type 2 diabetes.

But is it realistic, necessary, or even possible, to get added sugars down to zip? Not likely unless you are willing to cook from scratch and always start with whole, unprocessed foods. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this, however, for most people today, this isn’t realistic or practical. And I’m a real world pragmatic dietitian. So, on to a pragmatic down-to-earth approach to minimizing your intake of added sugars for the long haul (yes, the rest of your life!):

1. Think before you drink: Regularly sweetened soft drinks are our numero uno source of added sugars. Limit them, or better yet, cut them out. Choose water, water, water. If you’ve got to have that carbonation – try seltzer with a splash of juice and a drop of lemon or lime. Or opt for a diet soda.

2. Get up close and personal with your sugars and sweets need: Ask yourself: Do I really enjoy a sugary snacks or sweet treats and can’t make it through a day without one or more? Or can I go for days without? Is my goal healthy eating, weight loss, preventing type 2 diabetes? Get to know YOUR needs. Then come up with strategies that will work for YOU. Will it work best for you to keep ice cream out of your house and only eat a small serving on occasion when out? Or will a small piece of the best chocolate money can buy a few times a week satisfy your sweet tooth? Find YOUR happy medium. Denial hasn’t been shown to be a long term solution.

3. Limit, don’t eliminate added sugars from your home: Read ingredient lists, scour them for sources of added sugars (as Julie suggested, Become a Sugars Sleuth). The further these added sugars are to the top of the ingredient list and the more of them there are on the ingredient list, the more “sugars” are in the product. But don’t be fooled, sugars on the Nutrition Facts is all natural sugars from fruit and dairy foods plus added sugars (graphic – Nutrition Facts with sugars circled).

4. Select only delectable desserts: Whether you choose to enjoy desserts on the homefront or find it’s best for you to limit desserts to a once in a while restaurant meal, make every morsel of any dessert you eat delectable. Don’t waste your calories on so, so desserts. Tip two: split delectable desserts. The tastes you enjoy the most are the first few.

5. Quench your sweet tooth with sugar substitutes: Research shows that sugar substitutes used to sweeten beverages or foods and the use of foods or beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes have the potential to satisfy your sweet tooth while helping you control your calorie count. That is if they are used as part of a weight management plan and not used in additional to consuming excess calories.

Bottom line: Take the long view. Sure you can go cold turkey on sugars for a week, but healthful eating and weight control isn’t about what you can grin and bear for a week. You don’t need to delete sugars and sweets. Make moderation your mantra.