In My Childhood
Growing up in the 80’s, my Mom gave me a diet of mostly whole foods and few processed foods. As my parents were divorced, I spent time with my Dad and stepmother during holidays while I was not in school. My stepmother has always been conscientious of her diet. So much so I can remember the low-fat fad often being a topic of discussion at mealtimes. Those discussions stood out to me because that was unfamiliar territory for my Mom and I.
Back then it actually was not a “fad”, but what the government and doctors were instructing the public to follow.
Current research shows to avoid that saturated fats. Back then, we did not know that one of the substitutes for fat that made the foods taste good was not just as bad for you, but actually worse.
We are now in a situation where two-thirds of people in North America are overweight or obese1. This makes it extremely important for us to be super vigilant about not just looking at the marketing, but the nutritional data to see what we are actually eating.
Sugar is one of the worst culprits because it is in so much processed food. I watched “That Sugar Film”, by Damien Gameau, which is a great analysis of what sugar does to the body and how it affects one’s health. He went on a 60-day diet of “health” foods, not typical junk food, where he consumed 40 grams of added sugars per day.
As there are 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon that adds up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. The hidden sugars and health effects were all familiar territory for me, but what was most interesting is the lengths to which the sugar industry has gone to hide the deleterious effects sugar has on the body.
In one interview he talked to Michael Moss, the author of “Salt Sugar Fate how the Food Giants Hooked Us”. He attributed the propensity of children to crave sugary foods and reject healthier foods because of sugar being present in so many processed foods.
Although this can make the situation worse, the reason why children crave sugary foods is that they have more taste buds than us old folks and are hyper sensitive to sugar, which is high in calories and what they need to be active and grow not just physically but mentally. This is a survival trait and back from the hunter-gatherer days when there was no processed sugar available, eating a lot of “sweets”, which would have been fruit, would have been perfectly healthy and it still is within reason.
Children from birth have an innate ability to self-regulate food. The threat to this is parents who force their children to finish their plate, as the ability to self-regulate is lost once they are over-fed. Also toddlers can be very picky eaters because of their palate. If given too much artificially sweet food, this can cause them to be even pickier. If parents provide nutrient dense foods (think “shop the perimeter”) at specific mealtimes, children will eat until satiated.
Sugar Addiction: A Serious Threat to Society
Another issue with sugar is that it IS addictive! Sugar is a minor stimulant and uses the same reward pathways as cocaine. Obviously both of those substances do not have the same immediate effects, but lets look at the stats. How may people die from a cocaine overdose vs. chronic illness?
In 2015 there were about 6500 deaths from cocaine overdose2. Chronic diseases are responsible for about 1.7 million deaths per year3. Of course, there are many factors that go into the progression of chronic disease, but even if you look at how many people died from diabetes, which is certainly sugar related, over 200,000 people die from diabetes or with diabetes as a comorbid factor4.
The cost associated with drugs use (for all illegal drugs) is $11 billion in health care costs and $193 billion in overall costs2 (which includes the health care costs and lost productivity, for instance). For diabetes, the health-associated cost is $176 billion and $245 billion in overall costs4.
My point is not that sugar is worse for you and everyone should be on cocaine. It is that we have a serious problem with abuse of sugar consumption and we are not really talking about it. Sugar addiction is not looked down upon the same way cocaine addiction is, yet the deaths and costs associated with sugar overconsumption are much higher.
4 Things You Need to be Aware of When Buying Food to Cut Your Sugar Intake:
#1 Avoid Drinks With Lots of Sugar
There are some obvious areas where you can cut your sugar intake like with drinks. Most of what I drink is water, the occasional kombucha and even rarer Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha, which my husband calls crack (and rightfully so). When I go out to eat, these days I have been having hot tea because it is so stinkin’ cold here (really, snow in March?). Cutting out juice (yes, even fresh juice), sodas, energy drinks, and other sugary drinks is a simple, but maybe not easy, way to reduce sugar. I have a client who did this and now when this person goes out a soda is a treat instead of a staple throughout the day.
Sometimes cold turkey is not the most attainable path for someone wanting to make changes. Setting up goals that are attainable and sustainable beats out trying to be a hero any day. There are plenty of ways to goal yourself to reduce sugar, but be aware that anytime you cut out an addictive substance like sugar or caffeine, there are going to be withdrawal symptoms for two weeks or more. This is the feeling that you want, even if it is not a good feeling. Embrace it and know that your body is changing for the better.
#2 Nutrition Label Awareness – Serving Size
We live in a society where most likely, unless you are already making healthy shopping choices and going out of your way to find the health food stores with a greater selection of healthy foods, out of convenience the closest store to home will be the place to buy groceries. Most likely it will be a chain supermarket and the selection of that store is not always going to be exactly what is best. So there are times in which you must simply make the best out of what is available.
In my quest for nutrient dense bread, I found some bread that seemed more nutritious based on fiber content, but then I realized that the serving size was 2 slices. I knew I could do better because I wanted the serving size to reflect what is in 1 slice of bread as that is how much I plan on eating with breakfast. This is why serving size is important – know how much you are realistically going to eat (hint: invest in a kitchen scale because many serving sizes are in grams).
#3 Nutrition Label Awareness – Fiber Content
Getting enough fiber is important for regularity and reduction of colon cancer risk. Also, fiber is what carries cholesterol out of the body, which reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Here is an example of what to look for in fiber content: I purchased 21 whole grain bread and yes there is sugar in the ingredients. However, it is not the second ingredient (a good thing) and there are 5g of fiber in 1 slice of bread. So even though I am eating 1tsp of sugar per slice, for me the benefit of the other nutrients present makes up for it. If it had just 1g fiber with 1tsp of sugar, for me that is not nearly enough and I would not have picked that bread.
Organic whole wheat (organic whole wheat flour, organic cracked whole wheat), water, 21 Whole Grains and Seeds mix (organic whole flax seeds, organic sunflower seeds, organic ground whole flax seeds, organic un-hulled brown sesame seeds, organic triticale, organic pumpkin seeds, organic rolled barley, organic rolled oats, organic rolled rye, organic un-hulled black sesame seeds, organic millet, organic rolled spelt, organic blue cornmeal, organic brown rice flour, organic yellow cornmeal, organic amaranth flour, organic rolled KAMUT® Khorasan wheat, organic quinoa, organic buckwheat flour, organic sorghum flour, organic poppy seeds), organic dried cane syrup (sugar), organic wheat gluten, organic oat fiber, organic molasses, sea salt, organic cultured whole wheat, yeast, organic vinegar
It is important to note that the ingredients BEGIN with organic whole wheat.
Why is this important?
You will see a lot of bread being marketed as whole grain but then when you look at the ingredient list it says “made WITH whole grain or whole wheat, multi-grain, wheat, cracked wheat”, and several other terms that do not actually mean whole grain.
What you want to look for are rye, whole grain “____” or whole wheat – notice the “made with” is not there. One of those three will indicate that it is a more nutrient dense bread.
Why is nutrient density important? Not only is it healthier, but it will keep you feeling full longer. Also, consumption of more fiber is associated with less risk of colon cancer. Although colon cancer seems like a disease old people get, more and more young people, as in millenials and my generation, are being diagnosed with it5. Sugar is the 4th item on the ingredients list (after the long description of the seed mix) so I am comfortable that this is a fairly healthy product. Also because this contains quinoa, which is the only grain that is a complete protein, there are 5 grams of protein per slice…this bread is WINNING!!!
Taking the time to go through all of the bread in the bread aisle can be time consuming, but you only have to do it once and then you have your go to brand.
A trick to make the process simpler is skip the white bread totally and look first at the fiber content of wheat bread. Sometimes the fiber content will be high because they are counting two slices per serving. Do not let them trick you!
How much fiber should we have?
|Grams per Day||Grams per Meal|
|Women <50 years||26||9|
|Men <50 years||38||13|
#4 Nutrition Label Awareness – Sugar Content
The next step is to look at how many grams of sugar there are. This can be confusing because some things are made with natural sugars, like milk and fruit.
Some say that sugar is sugar, but unless you have a medical condition not all sugar is the same.
My example of milk and fruit are basically sugars. In order to reduce your sugar intake what we want to know is, is how much added sugar from refined sources is there?
In my example above of bread, “organic dried cane syrup” is a fancy term for refined sugar (another trick…they are SO sneaky!!). I know what is in the bread, but I do not know how much is in it.
The good news is by July 2018, manufacturers will be required to include a line for “added sugars”. This way you can have a clearer understanding of what you are consuming6.
In March of 2017, the National Confectioner’s Association, a candy lobby group, is having their annual meeting in Miami at Trump National Doral Hotel7. One of the things they are looking to change are regulations set by the previous administration regarding GMOs, subsidies and nutrition labeling so it will be interesting to see if the labels actually do change7.
Until then, you, the consumer, are going to have to do a little more leg work to figure out which products are going to be the healthiest. You are going to have to make sure that you are eating nutrient dense foods so that you feel fuller, longer, so that you can help to reduce those cravings for sugar.
There are many lifestyle factors that go into the development of chronic illness, but dietary habits are a big influence. 75% of deaths are attributed to chronic illness and you can reduce that risk. Make changes now to what you are putting into your body and cut your sugar intake. Think about it – what are you willing to give up to have a healthier life?
1. Adult Obesity (n.d.). Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/obesity-rates-worldwide/
2. Overdose Death Rates (January 2017). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
3. The Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the United States (n.d.). Fight Chronic Disease. Retrieved from: http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/GrowingCrisisofChronicDiseaseintheUSfactsheet_81009.pdf
4. Statistics About Diabetes (April 5, 2017). American Diabetes Association. Retrieved from: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/
5. Colon and Rectal Cancers Rising in Young People (February 28, 2017). The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/28/well/live/colon-and-rectal-cancers-rising-in-young-people.html?_r=0
6. Changes to the Nutrition Fact Label (April 3, 2017). US Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm385663.htm
7. ‘Big Candy’ is Lobbying the Trump Administration. It’s Also Holding Events at Trump Hotels (March 7, 2017). The Washington Post. Retrieved from: