March is National Nutrition Month: “Get Your Plate in Shape”

In March, the dietetic community celebrates food (as if we don’t do that all of the time) by choosing a healthy theme of the year.  This year’s theme, “Get Your Plate in Shape,” includes a few relevant tips for us.  Today I focus on one: Cut back on added sugaradded sugar isn’t only in regular sodas and pastries – there are many unsuspecting foods with added sugar.  For example, flavored yogurt is a common culprit.  Many children’s cereals have as much sugar per serving as a Hostess Twinkie (e.g., 1 Cup of Honey-Nut Cheerios is like eating 3 Chips Ahoy cookies).  Moral of the story, be skeptical.  Check a label’s ingredients to know for sure if a product is including added sugar – likely, the ingredient won’t be called “sugar,” but instead: high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, brown sugar syrup, invert sugar, honey, maltose, malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane crystals, sucrose, and dextrose.  There are others.  If you do not know an ingredient, look it up!  Find out if you’re eating too much sugar by reading more about it at the full engagement center.

Am I eating too much added sugar?

Answer yes or no to the following questions (i.e., what do you usually do):

(1)    Do you drink regular soda?

(2)    Do you use jam or honey?

(3)    Do you add packets of regular sugar to tea, coffee, cereal, (or anything for that matter)?

(4)    Do you eat a sweet cereal or oatmeal for breakfast (cereals with >8g per serving)?

(5)    Do your energy levels fluctuate significantly throughout the day?

(6)    Do you often have sugar cravings?

(7)    Do you eat dessert every day?

(8)    Do you drink juice and sweetened tea?

(9)    Aside from exercise, do you drink sports beverages because “they’re healthy”?

(10)  Have you answered yes to the majority of these questions? 🙂

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it can help you identify which areas need some improvement.  Some questions will help you pinpoint the problem more than others.  For example, if your breakfast cereal is high in sugar, maybe you can cut back a few times per week?  If your energy fluctuates significantly (the key word) — having a high amount of sugar at any point in the day might be a contributor.  If not, perhaps there are other areas you need to focus on, such as exercise or sleep.  If you “crave sugar,” are there any other food ideas you know about that will satisfy your craving?

Difference between added sugar and foods that contain natural sugars

I have chosen the above questions because they are behavioral indicators that will help you predict how much sugar you might be adding to your diet.  These questions do not include how often you include whole foods that are high in sugar, such as rice, pastas, bread products and starchy veggies (like potatoes and corn).  This is because – unless those foods have added sugars, which you now know how to find – those foods are much healthier sugars to include in your diet, when eaten in moderation.  To the other extreme, those foods in large portions will have similar effects on overall energy and mood.

How much added sugar am I “allowed” to have per day?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (we changed our name from American Dietetic Association recently) has not established an “RDA” or recommended daily allowance to added sugar.  However, the Department of Agriculture and some non-profits (like CSPI, the Center for Science in the Public Interest – amazing organization) have recommended no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar, which comes out to ~40 grams.  Remember this is ADDED SUGAR.  You would not include a banana or apple to this limit, because people did not add sugar to natural fruits.

Ideas to limit sugar in your diet

If you want to cut back, focus on one goal.  Try a new type of breakfast.  Add a package of Splenda to coffee or tea in place of regular.  Try unsweetened teas or diluting juice to slash sugar.  Ask me for ideas – or review previous Briefings.

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