I need to start with an apology. Reading this article may cause distress. I’m going to recommend that you slow down your sugar intake, and that might mean giving up any Valentine’s candy you just received from your sweetheart.
Sugar is already known as a culprit for the increased risk of diabetes and obesity. Research continues to link sugar to heart disease, hypertension, strokes, gout, periodontal disease, fatty liver disease, and many other health problems. Laura Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of Health Policy at UC San Francisco, indicates that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift in research on the health effects of sugar because our culture is eating way too much added sugar. The problem with so much added sugar is not just a concern about obesity, sugar is making us sick.
Nutritionists are not concerned about naturally occurring sugars that are found foods such as milk and fruit. Milk, fruit, and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods that contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water that our bodies need to function properly. The troubling sugars are added sugars such as white sugar and corn syrup that are found in three-quarters of the packaged food we eat in the United States. You might be surprised to find added sugar in packaged foods that you don’t think of as “sweet” such as pasta sauce, baked beans, bread, soups, ketchup, and flavored yogurts.
Sometimes added sugars sound like they might be healthier than table sugar or corn syrup. Honey, molasses, coconut palm sugar, agave, evaporated cane juice, and fruit juice concentrate sound like very natural and healthy forms of sugar, but they are basically just sugar. You might not see “sugar” or “high fructose corn syrup” on a nutrition label but look closer for these sweeteners that pack the same number of calories as regular sugar.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar to less than 10 percent of calories each day. If you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, you should limit your added sugar to just 200 calories. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the average 12-ounce can of soda has 126 calories from added sugar.
Now that I’ve ruined all enjoyment of your Valentine’s Day candy or your daily coke break, I want to invite you to join the sugar challenge. Try limiting all added sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet for the next two weeks. You will need to check the nutrition label to find foods that contain little or no added sugar. Replace your sugary drinks with water, sparkling water, milk, unsweetened tea or coffee. Try whole fruits instead of a sugary dessert.
Next week, come back to learn more about the health risks of our high-sugar diet. For more information, contact Kate Whitney, Bosque County Extension Agent, at 254-435-2331.