How do you take your sugar?

A friend forwarded me a link to a lecture on high-fructose corn syrup. It’s not the newest news that this form of sugar is insidious in many/most processed foods in grocery stores and restaurants. But, it’s a reminder that if your shopping cart — and your belly — is still mostly filled with commercially-made groceries, you’ll want to start policing the labels of those foods.

And not just snacks and desserts. Here’s a list of foods you might eat every day; commercial brands can have some form of sugar listed in the top three ingredients:

Granola, raisin bran, and other “healthy” cereals
Whole-grain breads
Crackers
Peanut butter
Ketchup
Bottled salad dressings
Mayonnaise products
Flavored yogurt
Canned soups
Jar pasta sauces
Pickles

People with high-sugar diets are developing the same diseases as heavy drinkers are (diabetes, hypoglycemia, liver and heart disease) because the sugars are chemically identical. It also talks about the USDA’s role in selling food, both at home and abroad, that’s been stripped of nutrients (like fiber) in order to extend shelf life. In moderation these foods aren’t toxic — but we were never meant to consume them in daily and ubiquitous doses. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole lecture, here’s a recap of what he advises for children and adults to return to sensible levels of sugar consumption. Again, it’s not about eliminating any or all of these foods from your diet — it’s about having them in moderation and reading labels so that YOU can choose how you want to take your sugar.

For kids:

  1. Sweetened drinks (including some baby formulas) are the biggest dose of sugar in kids’ diets — and the easiest to reduce. Keep water and milk in the fridge, and limit sugary drinks to a treat, not every day (including and especially fruit juice!)
  2. If your kids are more sedentary, match active time with sedentary time (i.e. Play outside for 30 minutes to get 30 mins of computer or TV time)
  3. Have kids wait 20 minutes before eating seconds
  4. Pair the sugar and carbs in their diet with some fiber (i.e., whole fruits are good, whole grains are good) Fructose in nature is usually packed inside fiber, which limits absorption of the sugar, helps the body feel fuller, and aids digestion.

For grownups:

  1. Eat more fiber-rich foods in their natural state, both sweet and savory. It increases satiety, nourishes, and wards off diabetes. Examples: fruits, legumes, whole grains like brown or wild rice, leafy and cruciferous green vegetables, sweet squash like butternut
  2. Exercise to burn stress, not calories. Exercise increases your metabolism and helps your body process toxic stress chemicals. Don’t obsess about “burning off” a cookie – calories will take care of themselves, even while you’re resting, if you eat wisely. Stress and sweets love each other, so try to control both in your daily life.
  3. Pair your sugar or carbs with fiber — save fiber-free desserts and carbs for now and then, not every day, and stop keeping them in your pantry to tempt you. If you have a tough habit to break, start by making your own junk foods from scratch (French fries, cookies, cheese straws, etc). They’ll be less processed and you won’t want to go to all that trouble every day. Once you’re weaned, you can slowly re-introduce the faster versions into your routine on a rare-treat basis. You’ll crave them less as you eat them less.
  4. Sodas, lattes, Gatorades: if you’ll kill these from your everyday diet, you’ll knock out a huge part of your sugar consumption. Sugar substitutes screw up your brain-stomach communication — they can scramble satiety signals so that you end up hungrier. Let yourself have the real stuff, just not every single day.

This is all an argument for moderation. Yet it’s hard to moderate sugar when you don’t know it’s hidden in most “convenience” foods. If anyone else has tips for savvy eating, please share them!

One trick I like is sweetening my own foods. I choose plain yogurt and flavor it with really good vanilla, or add my own fruit and a natural sugar. You can also buy unsweetened peanut butter, or use the grinder in the bulk aisle, then add a touch of honey to round out its flavor. It’s also preservative-free, so you can buy smaller amounts and always have it very fresh. SO much more delicious.