It can be tricky to navigate the holidays and avoid gaining weight to ring in the New Year. Eating excessive amounts of all foods (meat, potatoes, pastas, cookies, candy and beverages) contributes to that higher reading on the scale New Year’s Day but one food in particular, sugar, is creating year-round health problems.
There is growing evidence that eating too much sugar can be harmful to your heath, contributing to heart disease, diabetes and liver disease. In addition to increased dental caries, excessive sugar intake is also associated with accelerated aging and a suppressed immune system. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar daily compared to the recommended intake level of 6 teaspoons of sugar (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of sugar for men.
Where is all that sugar coming from? Added sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged convenience foods, including foods such as yogurt, energy bars, pasta sauce and ketchup. Liquid sugars, such as those found in sodas and sports drinks, are the biggest source of added sugar in our diet, contributing 36% of our sugar intake. One 12-ounce can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar and while soda consumption is decreasing, sport and energy drink intake is increasing and maintaining a high sugar intake in our diet.
Use food labels to identify sugars added to foods to know what you are consuming and reduce sugar intake. The nutrition label will identify Total Carbohydrate content and then state the amount of SUGAR found in one serving of the food. It is important to know that not all carbohydrates are sugar,but it is healthier to choose foods with only small amounts of sugar as a source of carbohydrate.
A second place to look for added sugars is the ingredients list. There are over 50 different names for sugar including Sugar, Glucose, Honey, Sorghum, Lactose, Fruit Juice Concentrate, High-fructose corn syrup, Dextrose, Fructose, Corn Syrup, Molasses, Maltose, Corn Sweetener, Sucrose, Brown Sugar and Syrup.
So what should we eat? The smallest amounts of added sugars will be in foods that have the least amount of processing. Fresh or canned fruits (packed in unsweetened juices), whole grained pastas, fresh, frozen and canned vegetables that are packed without added sauces and prepared simply can contribute to healthful eating not just during the holidays but year-round.
At the start of this new year, resolve to decrease your sugar intake for a 2020 focus on your health.
Julie Finney, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Clinical Nutrition Manager, Food & Nutrition Services
Mercy Medical Center