Conservation Corner

Conserve health – sugar alert

Pauline Lee

Did you know that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day? This amount is equivalent to 350 calories and it adds up to over 70 pounds of sugar a year. Amazingly most people aren’t even aware of it. While we do sometimes add sugar to our food, most added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods. Since we have a natural affinity for sweetness, food manufacturers have increased the desirability of their products by sweetening them.

Sugar is often added to drinks, snacks, yogurts, crackers, cereals, breads, salad dressings, noodles, sauces, soups, canned and dried foods and even deli meat. Drinks usually have the largest amounts of added sugar; one 12 ounce can of soda has eight teaspoons of sugar which adds 130 calories and no nutritional value. Extra sugar is added to low fat versions of common foods to improve their taste, yet counteracting the benefits of reducing fat. Added sugar interferes with the normal transport and signaling of the hormone leptin, which helps to produce the feeling of satiety. It also decreases the pleasure derived from food and compels the individual to consume more. The added sugars contribute additional calories which end up making the consumer overweight with an increased probability of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.

To avoid being tricked by processed foods, take a closer look at the ingredient labels. To figure out if a packaged food contains added sugars, and how much, you have to be a bit of a detective. On the Nutrition Facts panel, the line for sugars contains both the natural and added types as total grams of sugar. There are four calories in each gram so if a product has 15 grams of sugar per serving, that’s 60 calories just from the sugar alone not counting the other ingredients. Next, take a careful look at the list of ingredients. Sugar has many other names. Besides those ending in “ose,” such as maltose or sucrose; other names for sugar include high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates. The American Heart Association has recommended the following limits on added sugar per day: 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.

Just as many people have changed to a low salt diet for health reasons, shifting to a low sugar diet would also be much healthier even though your taste buds will take some time to adjust. Whenever possible use natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, molasses or dates, all of which have more nutritional value than white sugar. Learn to enjoy natural foods, especially fruits, which provide sweetness accompanied with good nutrients. We definitely can maintain better health without the excessive added sweetness.