Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Sugar Shake-up: How much do you really eat?

We all know by now that we as a nation need to reduce our sugar consumption. It's making us fat, giving us diabetes, raising our cholesterol, raising our blood pressure, and causing who knows what else that we'll learn about later! 

But, sugar is cheap and lobbyists are good at their jobs so its not likely that we'll see sugar making an exit on its own. To get rid of it, you have to take matters into your own hands. You also need to get a teaspoon, a bag of sugar, a ziplock bag, and a calculator. 

What's that, you say? You stopped eating candy and dumped soda? That's great! But I'm willing to bet you are still eating lots of sugar. Its hiding everywhere. Here's a quick way to find out just how much of it is making its way into your metabolism.

On the Nutrition Facts label of a food package, it will sometimes (not always) list the grams of sugar per serving. Four grams is about 1 teaspoon of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar is about 16 calories. So, if a product has 12 grams of sugar you can divide that by 4 to realize it is 3 teaspoons in each serving. If you're worried about calories, that's 48 calories.

Here's how to drive that home a little more. Get that teaspoon and spoon out three teaspoons of sugar into a ziplock bag. Would you eat that? Or pour it into your child's mouth? Of course not. But, that's what you do when you give your child one of these:

Which, I should admit, was in my pantry. My kid loves these, and they used to be a once-a-day habit for him. Now we're down to two or three a week and he has to eat fruit and drink some water first. He knows now that even though they taste really good (to him, they are way too sweet for me), they are a "sometimes food." Not a treat, not a reward. They're junk food that we only eat once in a while because its bad for our bodies. Even though it says organic. Organic sugar is still sugar.

Now, in all fairness, most foods also contain fiber, protein, and other nutrients that help your body absorb that sugar better than if you just poured it into your mouth. But the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following limits for sugar in our diets:
  • Women: no more than 100 calories, about 6 teaspoons.
  • Men: no more than 150 calories of added sugar, about 9 teaspoons.
  • Preschoolers: no more 4 teaspoons a day.
  • Children ages 4-8: no more than 3 teaspoons a day. 
  • Pre-teens: maximum 5 to 8 teaspoons.

And keep in mind that the AHA is likely heavily lobbied by sugar producers.

So go through your pantry and fridge and do the math. Start with cereal and yogurt. Then, if you really want to remember this lesson, tape that little bag of sugar to the front of the package and leave it there so you can see it the next time you reach in for a snack. Is that where you want to spend your sugar budget?

Sugar is not all bad. But, the impact of too much of it is. Get out there and get healthy today, even if you have to spend a lot of time standing in your pantry with a calculator and getting really ticked off.

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