Chuck, refined sugar is in everything – even bread! I recently went through every loaf in the grocery, and I found only one brand that didn’t have sugar in it. I’ll admit that I’m a sugar junkie. But I want to start somewhere to detox my body and get off that pervasive sweetener. Where do I start? – “Stop the Sugar Insanity” in Smyrna, Del.
I’ve got the perfect answer, and it comes from a fantastic article I read a few weeks ago by dietitian Cynthia Sass for Health magazine, “5 Ways to Eat Less Sugar.” Let me summarize her advice and add a little of my own, but first I want to state a few of the greater dangers of simple sugars.
Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, explained in an interview with CNN, “We actually need sugar; it’s our body’s preferred fuel.” But, he added, we eat too much of it.
Regarding how much sugar we need, the Mayo Clinic, citing the American Heart Association, explained that women should limit their daily intake of added sugar to 100 calories or fewer (6 teaspoons), and men’s intake should be no more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons) of sugar per day. (Added sugars are those sugars not included in good food sources, for example, fruit.)
The AHA explained that added sugar is responsible for a series of health ailments – tooth decay, reduced good cholesterol levels, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. – and it even could cause or exacerbate mental illnesses.
Sass cited a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that reported the added sugars Americans consume can “increase their risk of death from heart disease by almost 20 percent – regardless of other health problems. And for the 10 percent of Americans who get a quarter of their calories from added sugar, the risk more than doubles.”
And the scary part is that the average American consumes roughly 141 pounds of refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup a year. That’s more than a third of a pound every day.
With that in mind, it should be every American’s goal to fight to reduce the intake of refined sugars. So here’s what Sass advised we can do. At the very least, these ways represent a perfect place to start.
1. Junk the sugar-filled drinks.
Sass noted, “Nearly 40 percent of the added sugar in Americans’ diets comes from sugary beverages like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, and fruit punch.”
Time magazine just reported that based on a 22-year study of more than 42,000 men, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who drink roughly six sugary beverages a week are 20 percent likelier to have a heart attack than those who never drink them. And in a 2009 Harvard study, women who drank more than two sugary beverages daily had a nearly 40 percent higher risk of heart disease than women who seldom consumed sugary drinks.
2. Investigate hidden sources of sugar.
Sugar is hidden in almost everything that lines grocery shelves. Sass was correct when she highlighted 12 products in which most wouldn’t expect sugar to be added: soup, salad dressing, crackers, ketchup, sushi, granola, yogurt, bread, spaghetti sauce, frozen dinners and protein bars and shakes.
And the added complexity is that sugar comes marketed under so many different names. So, as Sass noted, “The best way to scope out added sugar … is to read ingredient lists. Look for words including brown sugar, corn syrup, maltose, fructose, dextrose, molasses, agave, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, and evaporated cane juice.”
If a food or beverage includes any of the above, look for a similar product that does not.
3. Buy plain foods and sweeten them yourself.
Instead of buying flavored yogurt, oatmeal with brown sugar, sweetened tea, etc. – even with sugar substitutes – go plain and then dress them with less and less organic honey or pure maple syrup until your palate changes and your body doesn’t crave sugar.
Like Sass, I’m not a big fan of all the sugar substitutes, because they can trick the mind into producing sugar cravings. But if you’re going to use substitutes, my wife, Gena, and I prefer stevia, which is a natural sweetener that is derived from an herb native to South America and has minimal effects on blood sugar levels.
4. Swap the sweetened foods for fiber-filled sweet fruit.
Remember that fruits are not the fiberless processed candies and foods with empty calories on the grocery shelves. Fruits contain natural, God-given fructose in small amounts, and they also are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, slowing down fructose’s absorption and preventing insulin spikes. And the carbohydrates in fruit – just as in bread, pasta and healthy cereals – are common sources of glucose, which our bodies need. (But when buying it in the can, buy fruit immersed only in water and not heavy syrups, which are often loaded with, you guessed it, sugar.)
That’s why Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, told CNN that “there’s no need to avoid the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables and low- and nonfat dairy.” (For more on fruit, go online and check out Sass’ article titled “Fruit Isn’t Making You Fat, and Here’s Why.”)
5. Limit sugary treats to once a week.
This is a great way to discipline and reward yourself for a week of fighting against your sugar cravings. Don’t allow yourself a total sugary splurge, such as the biggest hot fudge sundae you can find. Make it a relatively small treat that satiates most of your sweet tooth – such as a strawberry dipped in dark chocolate, honey sesame crunch bites, flavored popcorn, fruit strips and squeezes, prepackaged dried fruits, dark chocolate-dipped fig bars or bites, or any of the thousands of products or recipes for organic sugarless treats you can find online. Train yourself to eat them slowly and savor every bite.
Finally, as funny as they can be, it’s probably time that we quit using tongue-in-cheek quips and quotations to justify and indulge our sugar addictions – for example, when Ralph Nader said, “If God hadn’t meant for us to eat sugar, he wouldn’t have invented dentists.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.