Limiting Your Intake of Sugar
Since there is such a focus on eating a low-fat diet, people often think that any food that is low in fat is inherently healthy. This is not the case. For example, soda and hard candy have no fat, but they also have no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other health-promoting ingredients. What they do have is sugar, and lots of it. A lot of sugar can add up to a lot of calories.
Eating foods high in sugar and calories can lead to weight gain. Being overweight increases your risk of chronic disease, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Excess weight can also increase complications of other conditions you may have.
In addition, sugary foods often take the place of healthier foods, for example choosing a soda over a glass of skim milk or snacking on gummi bears instead of an apple.
Here are a few tips to help you minimize your intake of empty-calorie foods.
Don't be fooled by low-fat sweets. Often, when food manufacturers remove fat from cookies, crackers, cakes, and other snack foods, they add sugar to make up for the flavor lost with the fat. The result is that many low-fat snacks provide the same amount of calories—or more—as the original product. So a low-fat banner on the package doesn't give you free reign to eat the whole box. It's still important to look at calories and limit snacks.
Additionally, get to know the glycemic index of foods that you eat. The glycemic index (GI) is a number that describes the effect a carbohydrate has on your blood glucose level. Not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are sugars that cause an immediate and sudden spike of glucose levels that, over a long period of time, are very detrimental to your health. Foods with a low glycemic index cause minimal fluctuations of glucose level and, therefore, are much more beneficial to you health. Following a low glycemic index diet may help you loose some extra pounds as well.
Find other ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sometimes a little bit of sugar goes a long way. Try some of these tactics:
- Instead of the sugary cereal you've been eating since you were a kid, make a bowl of oatmeal and top it with some brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup.
- Mix 1/4 cup of a sugary cereal with 3/4 cup of a less sugary cereal (check the Nutrition Facts label for the sugar content).
- Snack on a bowl of applesauce; if it's not sweet enough add raisins or brown sugar.
- Fruits, both fresh and dried, are sweet and may offer you the sweet fix you're looking for at 3:00 in the afternoon or after dinner. Before heading for the candy, try some fruit first and see if that satisfies your sweet tooth.
- Dark chocolate (made with 70% cocoa or more) has less sugar and can be very rich and satisfying with a small amount.
Choose diet versions. If you just love the taste of soda and can't imagine having popcorn or pizza with anything else, try a diet version. Or if it's the bubbles you crave, have a glass of one of these zero calorie beverages:
- Seltzer water (some are flavored)
- Club soda (add a splash of fruit juice for flavor)
American Dietetic Association
Food and Nutrition
US Department of Agriculture
Glycemic Index and GI Database
The University of Sydney
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org .
US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome .
The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide . Chronimed Publishing; 1998
Last reviewed June 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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