How Sweet It Is!
By Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Picture those five pound bags of sugar that sit on the shelf at your local supermarket; now picture 30 of those bags. That’s how much sugar—150 pounds—that each of us eats, on average, every year.
Say the word, “sugar,” and most people picture the granular stuff that we keep in our sugar bowls at home. But that’s just one way we get our sugar. Some sugars come to us naturally. Foods like fruits that get their sweetness from fructose, a few veggies like beets, and from dairy products which naturally contain a sugar called lactose.
The concern about sugar isn’t over the natural sweets that we eat—it’s about the huge amount of foods with added sugar that we dump in our bodies. And we get it even from foods that don’t taste sweet. Aside from obvious things like sodas, sweet cereals and desserts, sugar finds its way into condiments, breads, and even salty snacks like chips.
One sugar that you should be on the lookout for is high fructose corn syrup. It doesn’t naturally occur in foods—it’s actually made from corn starch. Part of the reason it’s gotten so much attention is that it’s a triple threat: it’s intensely sweet; it’s a lot cheaper than sugar; and it’s found in everything from soda to soup.
It’s not that high fructose corn syrup is necessarily worse for you than other sugars. It’s just that since it was introduced into the food supply about 30 years ago, our total sugar intake has skyrocketed. Since its so inexpensive, high fructose corn syrup has made it much easier for us to eat a lot more sugar. It costs only pennies for a restaurant to supersize your soda, but the calorie cost that comes with it can be staggering - a large soda from a fast food restaurant can contain 25 teaspoons of sugar and more than 400 calories.
Sugar comes in so many forms, that you may not recognize how much you’re eating just from reading the ingredients list. But sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, corn syrup, and molasses are all sugar.
We get a lot of sugar from beverages, so try to drink more water, mineral water or plain iced tea. Fruit can take the place of sugar in cereals, yogurt, pancakes and waffles. Or try putting your bananas in the freezer—they taste just like ice cream and make a great dessert. If your kids are old enough to read food labels, give them a list of all the names for sugar and have them become “sugar detectives” at the supermarket.
Calling added sugars “empty calories” couldn’t be more accurate. Sugars are carbohydrates, which the body can use for fuel, but when you eat sugar that’s all you get—super-refined carbohydrate calories. On the other hand, eat the healthy carbs from foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and on top of energy that the carbohydrate supplies, you’ll also be getting vitamins, minerals and fiber. How sweet is that?
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.