What’s the deal with sugar? I have a big sweet tooth. I like chocolate just as much as the next person does. I 100% believe chocolate should be a part of every person’s life purely because it is delicious and satisfying. I also believe that we live in a society that has fallen way off track when it comes to nutrition. The blame cannot solely be placed on one person’s head. We have a duty to do our own research, and figure out what works for our individual bodies. At the same time, we should be able to trust the health care professionals and organizations put in place to help guide us. Sugar is creating quite a stir in the health community. Until recently, it has been quietly swept under the rug with many well-known organizations telling us that it had little-to-no effect on our health. You can read more about how blood sugar affects our health in my other blog posts that focus on Carbohydrates, Fat, and Protein. In this post, I want to share what I found (or lack thereof) when doing my own searching about sugar. I want to help you make better, conscious choices going forward.
What are the recommendations for sugar consumption?
As of today, Canada does not have specific guidelines pertaining to sugar consumption. When preparing this blog post I searched through the Canadian Food Guide and Dieticians of Canada website, to which neither make any recommendations regarding sugar, except to mention that it should be “limited.” Considering the research linking sugar to chronic diseases including heart disease, and type II diabetes, I was shocked there were no appropriate recommendations in either of the two organizations responsible for educating Canadians on what they should eat. The organization that does have something to say about this is WHO (World Health Organization). They recommend that sugar should not make up more than 5-10% of our daily calorie intake. This works out to about 20g (5 tsp) for women per day, 36g (9 tsp) for men per day, and 12g (3 tsp) for children per day. These recommendations include added sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup, but do not include vegetables and fruit, as research up to this point has not seen a negative affect from these foods.
What’s the big deal?
This is a hot topic right now. Recently, the New York Times published an article claiming that the Sugar Industry Scientists pointed the finger at fat while downplaying the role sugar played in chronic disease. They claim this has been going on for years, and has played a big part in shaping the recommended guidelines North Americans follow today. What they are saying is this: we were lied too. If you start researching this, it is hard to pick out the truth from the lies. It may be years before we know how big of an affect sugar may have on us. Most of us will agree that sugar has a negative effect when consumed in large quantities, and that limiting it may lead to improved health. Some of the negative side effects linked to over-consumption of sugar are the following:
Decreased Immune Function
Increase in Obesity
Type 2 Diabetes
…and the list goes on.
This is Not Fear Mongering
I am not telling you to give up sugar completely. I am only suggesting that you look at your current diet, and assess how much sugar you are consuming. Like me, you will be surprised where you find sugar hiding. The phrase “everything in moderation” has become overused, and is now an excuse to eat whatever we want. We should eat a lot more of some things (vegetables), and a lot less of others. Not all foods are created equal, and it is time we start fueling our body with the food that it needs.
How Much Sugar Are We Eating?
According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. That works out to 80+ grams per day, 40 kilograms per year, or 20 standardized bags of white sugar (woah). How is this possible? Below I have provided a list of popular treats with the amount of sugar found in a single serving of each. Keep in mind many people do not stop at one serving.
Can of Pop: 40g
Motts Assorted Fruit Flavoured Snacks: 10g
Snickers Bar: 47g
GoGurt Tubes: 8g
M&M Peanuts: 25g
Chocolate Pudding (1/2 cup): 17g
Dairy Queen Blizzard Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (small): 76g
Quaker Chocolate Chip Granola Bar: 5g (I am including this because I’ve seen many kids eat many of these in one day. It would only take a little more than two bars to be over the recommended intake)
As you may have noticed, one can of pop is double the recommended amount of sugar for the average female suggested by WHO. It is 4g over the recommendation for men, and 28g more than the recommended daily intake for children.
So what do I eat?
I don’t like telling people not to eat something. I suggest that instead of focusing on what you don’t think you should have, focus on healthy foods you know your body needs. If vegetables, fruit, whole grains and meat are the majority of your meals, you have a great base to build on. For most people, snacks are the hardest to replace with healthy options. Here are some snack suggestions:
All fruits and vegetables are excellent options (Fruits and Vegetables do contain naturally occurring sugar, the focus in the article is on added sugar. Fruits and Vegetables have high levels of fibre which helps slow down the absorption of sugar, they also contain many micronutrients needed in the body.)
Apple slices with peanut butter
Greek yogurt, almond slivers and fresh berries
Carrot sticks and hummus
Whole wheat crackers and cheese
If you search online, you will find thousands of other snack ideas!
How do I go about cutting out added sugar?
Cutting out sugar can be a very hard task. I suggest you start by keeping track of how much sugar you consume on a daily basis. Write out a few days’ worth of food, and asses the sugar content of each meal/snack. If you want to decrease the amount you are consuming, start by replacing one food that you frequently eat that you think may be having a significant impact on your health. For many people, replacing sugary beverages is a great place to start. If you drink three cans/bottles of pop a day, try only drinking two a day for an entire week. After that, you can cut down a little more until it becomes a treat rather than a daily occurrence! Focus on one small change at a time!
Eat Your Veggies!