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By Debi Budnick - Public Health Educator
Klickitat County Public Health Department 

The not-so-sweet truth about sugar

For Your Health

 


Most likely, there is some deliciously sweet treat taunting your taste buds right now: the donuts in the break room at work, the cookies in the cupboard, the soda in the vending machine or the candy in the grocery store check-out aisle. Most of us understand these things are not good for our health when consumed regularly, but did you know that sugar is hidden in all kinds of foods we think are healthy? These “added sugars” may be doing more harm than you think.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or drinks when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits. For many years, nutrition officials warned us of salt and fat and for the most part ignored sugar. New information suggests, however, that added sugar is contributing to a landslide of health issues such as an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. Aside from chronic diseases, sugar can affect how you feel throughout the day. It can contribute to headaches, bloating, lethargy and irritability. Some studies suggest it can lead to depression. It can even change the structure of collagen in the skin leaving wrinkles. It may also be highly addictive.

Americans are eating about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, the equivalent of 355 calories, on average. By contrast, recommendations are that women eat no more than about 6 teaspoons worth, 9 teaspoons for men. You could hit that mark with just two or three tablespoons of ketchup. Sources of added sugar include regular soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, candy, cookies, and dairy desert. Sugar is also hiding in many everyday “non-sugar” foods such as breakfast cereals, sauces, dressings, marinades, and jellies.

Cutting back on added sugars can be challenging because it is lurking in our food under a variety of names. Check the ingredients list for things like corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), brown sugar and raw sugar. Some more natural sources of added sugar that are perceived to be healthier (honey, molasses and maple syrup) still add empty calories to food.

Limiting processed foods is one sure-fire way to reduce empty calories. Learn to make your own salad dressings and sauces to control how much sugar is added to your food. Many people turn to artificial sweeteners and while they may help with weight control there is evidence to suggest they have their own issues too (we’ll get to that here in the future). When you feel a sugar craving coming on, try taking a 15 minute walk, it may subside. Eat just a small portion of something sweet or make it just a special treat. When cutting back on added sugar, give yourself a week or more to adjust. You might find when you return to high sugar foods you can taste how sickeningly sweet they actually are and decide for yourself how they make you feel.

 

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