By Lisa Marie Metzler
Americans have a big sweet tooth. The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At 16 calories a teaspoon, that adds up to a whopping 320 calories per day in sugar alone!
Sugar has no nutritional value and therefore is considered an empty calorie. Unfortunately, these empty calories taste wonderful and can be addictive.
A Weighty Issue
Our bodies digest simple sugars and turn them into saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. If the body is unable to use all the fats, they are dumped throughout the body, producing unwanted results such as excess weight. Candy bars, cappuccino and sodas may give us an initial boost during an afternoon slump, but the effects wear off fast and often make us crave more sugar.
“Refined carbohydrates are used fairly quickly by the body, raising blood sugar,” says Melanie R. Polk, registered dietitian and director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington D.C. “This causes an increase in insulin levels to get the energy into the cells. But too much insulin causes our blood sugar to fall fairly quickly, making us hungry again very soon.”
Consuming refined sugar can make weight control difficult, because it often takes the place of more nutritious foods in our diet, like lean protein.
According to Dr. Harold Schulman, co-author of Tipping the Scales: Getting Answers on Weight Management (Xlibris 2002), when protein is eaten, glucagons, rather than insulin levels, rise. Basically, glucagons attack fat cells, says Dr. Schulman.
For Dr. Schulman, the ABCs of avoiding weight gain are:
- Avoid sugar
- Beat insulin with protein and fiber
- Crash fat with glucagons
“Read labels,” says Polk. “If sugar is one of the first ingredients, you know the product has a high sugar item, and you should avoid it in place of a higher nutrient option.”
However, sugar comes in many forms. A good cue is the suffix “ose.” If you see an ingredient that ends in “ose,” it is probably a form of sugar. Common sugars are sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, fructose and high fructose corn syrup.
Once you start reading labels you may be surprised to find sugar is the leading ingredient in many foods we eat on a regular basis. Peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauces, cereal and fruit drinks are common culprits.
Start the investigation in your own pantry. Look at the labels and determine how much of the ingredients are simple sugars. Some of your favorite carbohydrate foods also will be high in simple sugars.
Next, find replacements for each meal. For instance, if you eat cold cereal for breakfast, find an alternative with less sugar. A typical bran cereal with raisins can have as much as 18 grams of sugar while a serving of oatmeal contains only one gram.
Examine the foods you eat now and look for ones that have no or little sugar. A good resource is Lick the Sugar Habit Sugar Counter: Discover the Hidden Sugar in Your Food (Avery 2001) by Nancy Appleton, Ph.D. This book takes the legwork out of reading labels in the supermarket and will give you the sugar content to thousands of foods in grocery stores and fast food restaurants.
Eliminating Craving of Sugar
Science proves when you eat sugary foods you crave more of them. But how can we apply this principal to effectively to lose weight?
Kellie Hanzak of Arlington, Va., is a conscientious eater, but when it came to sugar she struggled. “I’ve always had a thing for sugar,” says Hanzak. “Hot chocolate in the winter, a soda in the summer and little snacks that include sugar.”
First, Hanzak decided to stop drinking soda entirely and saw immediate results. “I lost 10 pounds without a sweat,” says Hanzak. After successfully cutting out soda (except for the occasional treat), she tackled other foods and beverages laden with sugar.
Saying no to only one soda each day will eliminate approximately 70 teaspoons a week and 1,120 calories from your diet! Instead, keep a cold bottle of water handy to sip on. Water makes your feel full, and the empty calories in the soda are better spent on nutritious foods. In addition, when simple sugars are eliminated from your diet, you won’t have the sweet cravings to the same extent.
Small Steps, Big Difference
Small steps, like cutting simple sugars from your diet, will aid weight loss goals. Although Joyce Tremethick, owner of One 2 One Personal Fitness in Dallas, Texas, recommends her clients start slowly and ease into eliminating sugar from the diet, she took the “cold turkey” approach.
Her weight had spiraled to nearly 230 pounds, and on a 5-feet frame, it was endangering her health. Her turning point came when her doctor warned of impending diabetes or a heart attack if she didn’t lose the weight.
“I actually eliminated sugar more strenuously than I would ever recommend for others to do,” says Tremethick. Consistent exercise and an overall healthy diet that included the elimination of sugar are what took the 90 pounds off for Tremethick. Her tip for the nagging sweet craving is to give in, but with limits. “A small scoop of ice cream, a sample size piece of candy or a cookie and then get back on track,” she says.
Cutting back or eliminating sugar in your diet will not only produce weight loss but give you a healthful array of foods you may never have tried had you not given up the simple sugars in your diet.
With these tasty alternatives, you won’t need refined sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth. Stevia, in particular, provides a pleasant sweetness without aftertaste.
Steviais an extremely sweet herb native to Paraguay and has been used for centuries as a flavor enhancer. It has no calories and is said to be 150 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. It is sold in powder and liquid forms. Since it is so much sweeter than sugar, it doesn’t take much to sweeten your coffee or desserts. Look for Stevia as a “dietary supplement” in your local health food store. Visit Stevia for recipes and tips on successfully using Stevia in your diet.
Whey Lowis made from a blend of natural sugars. It packs the same sweetness as table sugar, but with 75 percent fewer calories. Whey low is available in many forms including individual packets of Whey Low Gold for recipes that call for brown sugar. Visit Whey Low for products and recipes.
Splendais the brand name for the ingredient sucralose. Its patented multi-step process creates Splenda from real sugar cane, but has no calories. The body does not recognise it as a carbohydrate and passes it through the system unchanged. Splenda is available in granular form and individual packets.