I smile when I think of the days of M & M’s, Coca Cola, and other sweet treats I enjoyed as a child. One of my fondest memories was Mom making tea and serving Hostess Twinkies with it. That was a long time ago. Since then, the medical field has made strides in determining the effect of sugar on human bodies. Why did our delicacies become such villains?
The Dawn of Health Food
By the time I became a mom, I knew enough to limit my daughter’s sweetness intake. Scientists began to connect fat and sugar consumption with heart disease and diabetes. Needless to say, my toddler’s diet was low in sugar (and fat).
What Is Sugar?
The substance in question does not look particularly dangerous, but according to a distinguished expert in child obesity, it is poison. He demonizes not only the sugar we put in coffee or on cereal but high-fructose corn syrup.
Is this overkill? Other health professionals agree that sugar products are empty calories, but when eaten in moderation, it is okay. BUT what is moderation, and which sweetness carbs are more okay than others?
I can definitely tell the difference between good and bad carbohydrates by how I feel after eating. How do you feel after consuming a weekend of junk food? If you are anything like me, you feel uncomfortable. Junk food is full of hidden sugar. That’s bad. Sugar from nature is different.
We find natural sugar in fruits and vegetables, grains and dairy. We can call these carbs GOOD carbohydrates because they come from nature. This is healthy food and is part of a good diet. Foods derived from plants come with lots of what we need in daily nutrition (fiber), and dairy products contain calcium and protein. All good.
Unfortunately, bad sugar carbs generally appeal to people, especially children. Given a choice between a healthy snack (apple) or a cookie, most will take the cookie. Some health-conscious adults might take the apple, but would certainly be tempted to take the cookie.
Why, though, is it bad to take the cookie? A cookie is fine, but some of us indulge and eat the box of cookies. That is when the trouble begins.
Okay, now that we have established good from bad, how do we limit sugar intake?
1. Recognize Added Sugar
Added sugar is what manufacturers put in food to give it a longer shelf life (soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, cereal, cookies, cakes, candy and other processed foods). If it comes in a can or a box, it is processed.
Hidden sugar is in products that you would not expect. For example, soups, bread, cured meat, and ketchup. I know, it doesn’t seem fair.
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 150 sugar calories/day. That is not a lot of calories, the amount in a can of soda.
2. Read Food Labels
Labels that contain the following elements have sugar in them.
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Syrup sugar ending in “Rose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
3. Choose Natural Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are better because they contain nutrients, while white sugar calories are empty. These are great because you can use them in cooking and baking to add sweetness without compromising your health: for example, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
4. Use Substitutes
Sugar substitutes are man-made sweeteners. They have no calories. Some of these sweeteners in the past had warning labels, but after many studies, the FDA has cleared them of being harmful to humans.
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett or Sweet One) – Found in sugar-free gum, light juices and light ice cream.
- Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) – Used to sweeten beverages and found in diet sodas.
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low) – Used as a tabletop sweetener, it can also be found in chewing gum, canned fruit, baked goods and soft drinks.
- Sucralose (Splenda) – Used as a general-purpose sweetener for foods.
5. Use Less
Baking recipes are notorious for requiring larger amounts of sweetness than necessary. I have used a tried and true technique forever. My secret is to use 1 container of unsweetened applesauce in the recipe and only ½ the sugar. The applesauce comes in a 6-pack. Be sure you get unsweetened.