Remember the children’s books, Where’s Waldo? The series consisted of laboriously illustrated two page spreads depicting hundreds of people, animals and objects. The challenge lay in finding Waldo, a tall bespectacled fellow, hiding somewhere on the spread. Finding sugars in your food is a bit like finding Waldo. It tends to be hidden in multiple guises on the Nutrition Facts panel of food. And unless you’re well-versed in the countless sugar aliases hiding out in packaged foods, you’re probably eating more than the recommended six to nine teaspoons per day.
So let’s start with the aliases under which sugars tend to hide in common food items:
||cane juice/cane sugar
||corn syrup/corn sweeteners
||fruit juice concentrate
|granulated white sugar
||high fructose corn syrup
Does it matter which form of sugar you’re eating? Is one less harmful or less fattening than another? Unfortunately, no. Sugar is sugar and whether it’s the three teaspoons of honey you’re stirring into your tea or the three teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar sprinkled on your coffee cake – the three teaspoons amount to 48 calories no matter how you serve them up. And when you’re examining a food label and notice more than one of the above aliases listed, you’re probably about to eat something fairly high in sugar content. The higher up on the food label the sugar names appear, the higher the sugar content. Play a little hide and seek before you take a bite. If you see maltose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and glucose all on the nutrition label, chances are that the main ingredient in what you’re about to eat is…..sugar.
Many of my clients ask if artificial sweeteners are better choices for satisfying their sweet tooths. Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on that one and a lot depends on what is trying to be accomplished. The artificial sweeteners that are currently approved by the FDA are Acesulfame potassium (in Sunett and Sweet One), Aspartame (found in Equal and NutraSweet), Neotame, Saccharine (in Sugar Twin and Sweet ‘N Low), and Sucralose (found in Splenda). For the last thirty years, artificial sweeteners have been under intense scrutiny because of studies conducted in the 1970s that linked saccharin ingestion to bladder cancer in lab rats. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, there’s no hard evidence that artificial sweeteners cause cancer or other ailments.
Most of us turn to artificial sweeteners because they don’t pack the caloric punch to our diets that sugars do. In fact, most artificial sweeteners have no calories at all and could be considered beneficial for people trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain. Also since they don’t raise blood sugar, artificial sweeteners could be considered suitable alternatives to sugar for people who have diabetes. And tooth decay? Far less likely if you’re sweetening your food with artificial sweeteners.
The flip side of the coin is that imitation sweeteners can be up to 600 times sweeter than real sugar or any of its aliases. Most people then tend to crave such intense sweetness in all of their foods, thus making it more difficult to satisfy their sweet tooths. The net result is that we tend to crave and eat even more sweets.
Another problem with falling for the fakes is the rationalizing we tend to do when we eat or drink foods that are marketed as “diet-friendly” such as sugar free sodas. We think, “Well, I had the diet Coke so I can have a second helping of cake.” In the end, many of us tend to over eat when we’ve been “good” with the artificial sweeteners.
All in all, your healthiest choice will be to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet. That doesn’t mean cutting it out all together – remember it’s all about balance and moderation. Here are some tips:
- Cut back gradually. If you try quitting sugar cold turkey you’re setting yourself up for failure. Cut back a little at a time. For example, if you usually spoon three teaspoons of sugar into your morning coffee, try just two teaspoons. Then see if you can cut back to one. Your taste buds will adjust to the gradual reduction.
- Likewise, allow yourself some sugar – but save your “ration” for the foods in which it will matter the most, like desserts.
- Drink with caution. Cut back on sugary, non-diet sodas and other beverages, including soft drinks, bottled teas, and fruit juices. Many of us drink more sugars than we realize. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 39 grams of sugar. An 8-ounce serving of Tropicana 100% orange juice packs 25 grams of sugar. Even a 20-ounce bottle of Vitamin Water contains a walloping 33 grams of sugar. Opt instead for milk or regular water. Both are healthier and easier on the wallet. If plain water doesn’t suit you, try flavoring it with a little fresh fruit such as strawberries or orange slices.
- Try going half and half. If I’m craving a Coke and no other beverage will do, I’ll ask for half regular and half diet to cut down on the amount of sugar I drink.
- Substitute naturally sweet foods such as fruit for foods with added sugars. This will help to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Scrutinize your food labels for added sugars (remember the sugar aliases). The higher up on the ingredient list various sugars appear, the more added sugar the product contains. One particularly problematic food tends to be breakfast cereals, many of which contain lots of added sugars to appeal to children. Choose cereals and other foods with lower sugar content.
- Substitute spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, mace and nutmeg for sugars.
- Go easy on the condiments such as salad dressings and ketchup. Also, opt for reduced sugar varieties of syrups, jellies and preserves.
- Watch for canned fruit packed with syrup. Choose fruits packed in water or natural fruit juice instead.
So there you have it. Just limiting the amount of sugar in your diet will help you cut calories drastically without compromising taste. And if it doesn’t go in your mouth, it won’t wind up on your hips. Balance and moderation are the keys.