Nutritionists offer ways to get the sugar monkey off your back
February 16, 2016 12:00 AM
There are 9-1/2 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. can of soda.
By John F. Gilmore III / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Most consumers likely soured over the newly released federal dietary guidelines that urged people to cut added sugar consumption to just 10 percent of their daily calorie intake.
And while there is hard science behind that recommendation, there are also ways to tone down the cravings of your sweet tooth without feeling deprived. The key is gradually cutting back on volume and finding appealing substitutes in flavor.
Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at University of California, San Francisco, is a staunch critic of added sugar in foods. He sees sugar as that “other white powder” that people crave daily.
“Just like alcohol, sugar is both toxic and addictive to our systems,” he said. “Therefore, we must regulate it like any other harmful substance. ”
American adults on average consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day (for children it is up to 32 teaspoons a day). But under the new recommendations of 10 percent daily calorie intake, a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day should consume just 200 calories of extra sugar — about 12 teaspoons — or a little less than what’s in a 12-ounce can of sugared soda.
“Glucose itself is not sweet, if minimally so,” said Dr. Lustig. “It’s important in our bodies, but we don’t need to eat it to survive. High fructose corn syrup itself is nonorganic and makes sugary food sweet.”
Recent studies have shown added sugar’s long-term effects on the human body, including liver scarring and contributing to heart disease and insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.
While it’s extremely challenging to go cold turkey on added sugar, various experts have suggestions on how to cut back.
Leslie Bonci, former UPMC nutritionist and owner of Active Eating Advice in Point Breeze, suggests diluting drinks to gradually reduce the consumption of sugary products. With drinks like tea, use a little bit of honey instead of processed sugar. Even with coffee, use the bean’s natural flavor instead of adding artificial sweetener.
For cold beverages with a high sugar concentration, dilute them gradually over time. Instead of using concentrated orange juice, drink two-thirds orange juice and one-third sparkling seltzer water, eventually cutting back even more. Try to abstain from sugary soda drinks if possible.
Anna Ardine, a clinical nutrition manager at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, believes that as Americans, we tend to drink most of our sugar rather than eat it.
“Caffeinated drinks at coffee shops like Starbucks are a prime guilty party. A typical Starbucks grande mocha frappuccino has 15 teaspoons of sugar,” she said.
And that’s without the fluffy whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.
While you’re on the sports field, make your own hydration station — lemon/lime slices with water. Sugar content is minimal while athletes keep hydrated. Energy drinks such as Vitamin Water, Gatorade and Propel are packed with sugar. They can add electrolytes and other supplements to heavy sweaters on the field, but they do more harm than benefit to the normal gym user.
Because most of us don’t work out enough to need the electrolyte-filled energy drinks to replenish what we’ve lost, gulping down a glass of water is the best way to hydrate. Ms. Bonci recommends that a person can also drink green tea with lemon and honey, as well as other low calorie beverages to replenish energy.
“While parents may think it's simple to just buy sugary sports drinks for their kids, it’s even easier to make your own,” she said.
In terms of food, many people try to cut down on sugar by eating yogurt. However, what might seem a tasty and healthy yogurt usually has incredible amounts of fructose. Ms. Bonci advises using vanilla Greek yogurt, which is strained to reduce its lactose content. By adding what you want in the traditionally bitter yogurt, whether it’s nuts and honey or sweet spices like vanilla or cinnamon, you can control the amount of sugar you ingest.
Ms. Bonci also recommends trying to substitute some typically sugary foods with less sugary products. For example, when eating cereal, combine half Honey Nut Cheerios with half Total. That way, a person can cut down on the sugar without cutting out the taste.
Another way to curb your sugar addiction, she suggests, is to embrace your other four taste buds. Spice up your meals with food that appeals to your sour, salty or bitter taste buds. For example, dark chocolate — which is both sweet and bitter — has less sugar than typical semi-sweet chocolate bars.
“The first few days are indeed challenging, but if you can maintain the diet for 10-12 days, you’ll start to see — and taste — the difference,” Ms. Bonci said.
Ms. Ardine suggests keeping a food journal to record everything you eat and drink. That way, people have a snapshot of their dietary regimen and can strategize on how to cut back on sugary substances.
“Portion sizes [of meals] are much larger than they were 20 years ago,” said Ms. Ardine, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Edinboro University. “Snacks such as cookies and brownies served at coffee shops are much larger than a healthy portion size and are actually hurting us since we are fooled into believing that it is all one size.”
The dietitian manager warns that the more packaged food people consume, the less control they have on how much added sugar is in their diet. Preservatives often contain sugars to increase a food’s shelf life. If you stick to lean food, fresh vegetables and healthy fruits, however, you’re more likely to control your sugar intake, and it will drop dramatically.
While some critics in Dr. Lustig’s field argue that processed sugar is not addictive, he believes otherwise.
“If you stop thinking of sugar as food but instead as a substance that raises dopamine (a neurotransmitter that stimulates pleasure) and causes damage when taken to the extreme, you can see why the stuff is so powerful.”
John F. Gilmore III: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-1130.
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