Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sparsely sweet: lowering added sugars

Use fresh fruit in place of jam
Sugars are certainly on the national radar - NY passed a ban on over sized sodas - and the chopping block - schools are banning bake sales and the vending machines are getting the boot.

While added sugars are not helping the obesity epidemic we face in this country and around the world, I wouldn't advocate for a sugar free eating pattern. Why not? Sugars are naturally packaged with some  healthful foods - milk and fruit. If you tried to follow a sugar free diet, you'd be missing out on those two nutritional power houses.



What is sugar? Sugars are six-carbon molecules that usually occur as a pair (aka disaccharides) in certain foods, like lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, or as much longer molecules to form starches, fibers and the kinds of carbohydrates we find in white bread, wheat bread, rice, quinoa and potatoes. Yes, white bread "breaks down to sugar", but so too does any other starch. Sugar isn't the culperit, the problem is what the sugar is packaged with (or without).

Food is a mixed bag of many things; the calories come from whatever fats, proteins and carbohydrates are in the food. You also find vitamins, minerals, water, phytochemicals, and alcohols may be present too. There is also the possibility of added colors, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, "good" bacteria (i.e. probiotics - yogurt) and "bad" bacteria (i.e. food poisoning) and even yeast (bread and beer) and fungi (mushrooms - yum, or spoiled food - yuck).

While we're most comfortable with a food being labeled as "good" or "bad", most things with nutrtion are more gray; the poision is in the dose (thank you Paracelsus). Some foods containing sugars are healthy, like fruit and milk, but these days we are seeing too many added sugars.  While they're the same molecule, adding sugar doesn't increase the nutritional value of the food - it just adds extra calories.

If you look at a food label, how do you know? Unfortunately, you don't. Sugar is usually listed as a portion of the total carbohydrates, but from that information alone you don't know if it was a part of the food originally, or added somewhere down the processing line. What you need to browse is the ingredient list; if sugar was added, and you know what the key words are, you'll find them!

Besides "sugar", here are some other sneaky ways to mean sugar:
Hint: most sugars end in -ose

· Agave Nectar
· Barley Malt Syrup
· Brown rice syrup
· Brown sugar
· Corn sweetener
· Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
· Dehydrated Cane Juice
· Dextrin
· Dextrose
· Fructose
· Fruit juice concentrate
· Glucose
· High-fructose corn syrup
· Honey
· Invert sugar

· Lactose
· Maltodextrin
· Malt syrup
· Maltose
· Maple syrup
· Molasses
· Raw sugar
· Rice Syrup
· Saccharose
· Sorghum or sorghum syrup
· Sucrose
· Syrup
· Treacle
· Turbinado Sugar
· Xylose


Some foods contain only naturally occurring sugar (apples or milk), other contain only added sugars (sweet tea, chocolate chip cookies, pancake syrup) and some contain both (sweetened apple sauce, fruit flavored yogurt, chocolate milk, raisin granola). The best advice is to minimize added sugars in you daily routine and to enjoy them as treats once in a while. If you practice eating mindfully, you'll enjoy that treat for longer.

How to do this? Get started with these delicious recipes:
  • Use fresh or dried fruit in place of jam
  • Instead of sugary store bought cake, try these less-intensly sweetened Chocolate zucchini cupcakes
  • Instead of syrup on your pancakes and waffles, try my berry-ful fruit compote.
  • In place of calorie-laden peanut butter cookies, try the nutrient-packed energy bites . Not low-calorie, but loaded with healthy nutrition to keep you moving!
  • Replace your sugar-drenched "fruit" yogurt with a delicous fruit parfait.
  • Flavor your morning coffee with spices intead of sugar.
  • Instead of hitting the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry's, try my strawberry banana"ice-cream"
  • Remake old favorites - most banana bread recipes are really just cake by another name. Try this (best) banana bread recipe and enjoy actually tasting the banana!
What is the sweet summary? Sugar, when found naturally in foods like fruit and milk, is a healthy part of a balanced eating plan. Too many added sugars, usually founds in sweet drinks and treats, should be kept to a minimum.

Reader poll:  Are you checking food packages for the ingredient list? Did anything surprise you?

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