You have probably heard the news by now. The nutrition facts label is finally getting a make-over, particularly with regard to added sugars. While this story hit the major news organizations last week it has been a health concern for some time. Over the past five years, a growing body of evidence has linked high levels of sugar consumption to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, even among Americans who are not overweight or obese.
So I thought I would take some time to piggy-back on this news with a story of a recent nutrition consultation I had.
Recently my client Jeanne wanted to discuss sugar. You know sugar, that granular or powdery substance that many of us just cannot resist. In general Jeanne pays good attention to health and nutrition science and how it might apply to her. I am especially impressed with her efforts because she is not just driven by a weight number on a scale. She is genuinely sold on the notion that we are what we eat. And if we eat well, exercise, and practice some form of stress management or mindfulness we are in better control of our health outcomes. And she practices behaviors toward these ends. Nevertheless, she and her physician have noticed an elevating trend in her cholesterol, especially her LDL or “bad” cholesterol number.
Jeanne decided to do an inventory of how she had been eating lately and wondered if she might be loving her sweets a bit more then was good for her. She didn’t know if this would help her cholesterol. In fact she has read and has been told that too much of a certain type of fat in our diets raises cholesterol. But she didn’t think fat intake was her issue. She generally she cooks at home, eats whole vs. processed food and never eats at fast food establishments. So after determining she was eating fairly well for the most part she decided to circle back to her initial suspicion – too much sugar in her diet.
What did Jeanne learn?: Jeanne cut back on sugar and guess what? Her bad cholesterol, without doing other dietary changes, came down! And it came down enough to convince her doctor that no statin drug was called for at this time. And now she has a clearer understanding of her body’s response to certain types of foods, what her “tolerance” levels are and a deeper insight into label reading.
Juice: Even though she was only drinking a 4 ounce (1/2 cup) amount and she diluted it, her beverage was still contributing 16 grams of sugar (4 teaspoons) to her breakfast. Sure you would get that same amount from eating a medium orange but you do not get the fiber and its health benefits. And if you have a bigger serving size, which many of us do, you would be drinking the sugar content of at least 4 oranges in a glass or more like 6-10 teaspoons of liquid sugar.
(A cube = 1 teaspoon sugar)
Added sugars: It goes by many names and you cannot tease out added from natural sugars on the nutrition facts label. You have to read the ingredient list and be sugar savvy even when selecting foods we fully expect will be “healthy.” Take yogurt for example, touted for its cultures and calcium:
The good news (and you heard it last week): The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has proposed some changes to the current label. Listing information about added sugars – sweeteners that are added to foods during processing – is one of the proposed changes. The proposed new label will look as follows:
How much added sugar is recommended? According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars you should consume in a day are: Men: 150 calories (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons). Women: 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).
Be sugar smart!: Be on alert for added sugars in your diet. Is it in your milk, yogurt, coffee or tea? Is it added in your bread, catsup, pasta or grilling sauce? How much do you use for a portion? Is it the challenge in your diet that you want to undertake for improved health?
We each have a unique metabolic profile. As clinicians we continue to learn from science, however evolving, and from you our clients. Perhaps different food constituents or additives adversely affect you? How will you know? We advise everyone to start with some baseline medical/laboratory testing with regard to blood markers, weight status and other issues that may be important for your health. For some, extra testing related to sleep, diabetes, or body composition (a deeper look at your weight beyond one number) is called for.
We strive to pinpoint and assist with your particular health concerns or goals as well as provide you with the latest health and nutrition research. Hope to see you soon at Enara Health!