Hidden Ingredients: Sugar

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD

Does sugar monopolize your day? Let’s take a gander at a regular day’s consumption:

    • Breakfast:  Vanilla creamer in your coffee, oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins.
    • Morning Snack:  Standard meal replacement bar.
    • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on wheat bread, banana.
    • Afternoon Snack: Strawberry Greek Yogurt, granola.
    • Dinner:  Glass of Chardonnay, sweet potato, grilled chicken, green beans.
    • Dessert:  1-cup ice cream.

The above menu seems pretty decent at first glance.  Three meals, three snacks and no fast food. No crazy, unhealthy choices or gigantic portions. While there are some healthy components to this day, the major drawback is the sugar content – a whopping 139 grams!

Over 100 grams of sugar per day has become commonplace, due to the nutrient’s presence in almost all processed foods.  In the example above, the processed food items include: creamer, brown sugar, meal replacement bar, bread, yogurt, granola, wine, and ice cream.  All items containing sugar. In addition, many foods naturally contain sugar as well. Raisins, bananas, and the sweet potatoes are all guilty.

It’s gotten to the point that when intentionally “cheating” and having something sweet like a cupcake or candy, it isn’t entirely accurate anymore because so many foods contain added sugar. We are cheating all day long, and often don’t even realize it!

The Problem

I shop at my local grocery store frequently and recently picked up a couple food items that really disappointed me when I got home and realized sugar was on the ingredient list. One of the items was a tomato soup.  Now tomatoes are technically fruit, and already contain natural sugar.  Why in the world add sugar to this product? I knew immediately after taking the first sip that it contained sugar.  It tasted awful. The other product was salsa. Again, the fruits and veggies added to make the salsa are already sugar containing, yet the manufacturer felt the need to add more refined sugar.

Food manufacturers sneak sugar into many products like soup, tomato sauce, salad dressings, salsa, lasagna, lunchmeat, crackers, bars, protein powder, condiments, and the list goes on and on. Why is it present in almost all packaged items these days? To improve flavor or to make us more addicted?

This is a big problem since all processed food manufacturers have jumped onboard. The popular brand specialty health food stores are not any better than your traditional grocery stores. They also add unnecessary sugar; it’s just masquerading under a fancy name.

The Types of Sugar

Don’t let the type of sugar fool you.  Whether it’s agave, beet sugar, cane juice, coconut sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, raw sugar, turbinado, or organic sugar, it’s still sugar.  All sugar spikes your blood glucose when consumed alone and will lead to health issues (and addiction) if over-consumed.

The Associated Health Issues

Here’s the really scary part about sugar, the more you eat it, the more you crave it. Sugar stimulates the hedonic pathway, which leads to habit and dependence, similar to the ethanol in alcohol. The cycle must be broken.

Reducing daily sugar intake can truly be a battle as the mind must be re-trained and reminded that you don’t need those foods. Old habits must be broken and new ones established. There is a detox component of sugar unloading. Headaches, energy fluctuations, and irritability seem to be the most common side effects. But these only last a few weeks, and it is well worth the investment.

Sugar is linked to Metabolic Syndrome, of which the markers include weight gain, abdominal obesity, high LDL/low HDL, increased blood sugar, increased triglycerides, and increased blood pressure. It can also cause high uric acid levels, which is linked to heart and kidney disease. In addition, sugar consumed in excess is taxing on the liver, just like alcohol. Fructose-containing foods feed cancer cells and are also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Solution

 1) Awareness. Be aware of everything contributing sugar to your daily fuel plan. Remember the sample intake day above? By making some simple changes, you can cut over half the sugar and feel a lot better.

  • Breakfast:  Half & half creamer in your coffee, oatmeal with coconut oil and walnuts.
  • Morning Snack:  Unprocessed bar made out of whole foods/ingredients.
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on wheat bread, hummus/carrots.
  • Afternoon Snack:  Plain Greek Yogurt, berries, pecans.
  • Dinner:  Glass of Chardonnay, sweet potato, grilled chicken, green beans.
  • Dessert:  ½ apple, almond butter.

= 66 grams of total sugar for the day

How much sugar is reasonable per day? Well, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams for women, and 36 grams for men.  But keep in mind that as an athlete, there are certain times of the training season where you are consuming more carbohydrates to meet training demands so there is some flexibility in these numbers. 

Regardless, keeping daily sugar intake under 50 grams per day is a good goal. Foods containing natural sugar are always a better option than refined sugar.

2) Label Reading.  Assume that all packaged items contain sugar, and force the label to prove you wrong.

3) Find Better Substitutions.  Granola is a food that is usually very high in carbs and sugar, often having 3-5 different types of sugars added for flavoring.  A client of mine recently enlightened me to a better brand which contains only 4 grams of sugar from a single source. The point is, there’s almost always a better option, it just may take some searching.

4) Make Your Own.  When you make your own granola, cookies, bars, etc. you are able to fully control the ingredient list and make adjustments that you are comfortable with. It takes some extra time, but well worth the investment!

In Summary

The good news is that you CAN cut back on sugar and feel much better! Know what foods contain sugar, and avoid those that contain it unnecessarily. Then you can save your sugar intake for those special occasions where you want that delicious slice of birthday cake or some of your favorite wine. Recruit the help of a sports dietitian if you need more guidance. Sugar detox happens to be near and dear to my heart.

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona.  She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including 3 Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients as well as sweat sodium concentration testing.  For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com

Change Up Your Diet!

“First, we eat, then we do everything else.” –MFK Fischer

 

When it comes to our diet, we can tend to fall into the habit of routinely eating the same types of food every day. However, research has shown that incorporating diversity into your diet is an essential component when it comes to your overall health and well-being! Makes sense– since no single food actually contains all of the essential nutrients that our bodies need. We frequently hear about the dangers and health risks associated with an unhealthy and subpar diet, but, have you ever thought that a lack of variety when it comes to the food you are eating could actually be posing the same problem?!

 

“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.” –Anna Thomas

 

A lack of variety in our diet can cause similar problems to our health as a poor diet. After speaking with Mark Heiman, chief scientific officer at MicroBiome Therapeutics, Craig Cox wrote that, “speaking at the recent Institute of Food Technologists conference in Chicago, Heiman argued that our tendency to stick to the same basic meals (rice, maize, and wheat, for example, account for about 60 percent of all the calories derived from plant sources) can compromise our gut’s ecosystem and lead to chronic diseases.” Heiman and his team studied the differing outcomes in a study conducted using subjects with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes along with healthy subjects. With the first group, Heiman incorporated inulin, beta glucan, and other antioxidants into their diet. The result? The gut ecosystems of the subjects in the first group were shifted, supporting the idea that adding more variety and diversity into our diets can physically alter our body’s ecosystem and actually improve our overall health.

 

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” –Virginia Woolf

 

By disregarding diversity in food, we are actually doing our body’s a disservice. Our gut is microbiome is essential in ensuring our health and well-being, and the types of food we consume have a large influence on it. By sticking to the same diet day in and day out, you increase your risk of developing food intolerance and allergies. Diversity=stability. According to Dr. Deanna Minich, “if for some reason your supply of a particular nutrient is interrupted from one source, you have plenty of other sources from which to get that particular nutrient, making it easier to retain homeostasis, or stability.” This is important because it increases our chances at consuming all the essential vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need!

 

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” –Luciano Pavarotti

 

Changing up our diets and adding more diversity to them can make our lives happier and healthier. “On top of simply mitigating deficiencies, a diverse diet also ensures you benefit from the complementary actions of phytochemicals and mitigate some of the contributing factors to chronic diseases, such as dysbiosis, inflammation, and oxidative stress” (Minich, D). Variety offers many physical and mental benefits that can work to improve our overall health and well-being. Mix it up and have fun doing it! Who knows—you might even like your new diet plan!

 

Works Cited:
Cox, Craig. Experience Life. “Diversify Your Diet to Improve Your Health.” https://experiencelife.com/article/diversify-your-diet-to-improve-your-health/.
Minich, Deanna. Deanna Minich. “6 Reasons Your Diet Needs to Include a Range of Foods.” http://deannaminich.com/food-diversity/.