Your Facebook questions answered: What’s your take on sugar?

“Rosie, what are your thoughts about all these people who are staying away from sugar now… looking for ketchup without sugar, etc…  Even thinking that natural sugars are bad. Any thoughts? Besides tuning them out? Or suggesting they keep to the perimeter of the grocery store!”, asks Enlightened Eater Facebook fan Jennifer Burnham.

Jennifer, you’re absolutely right that sugar has become the new dietary culprit. As a dietitian, I have to say that this whole issue is about two different matters.  One is the sky-high  amounts of added sugar being consumed by some people in the form of soft drinks, sugary cereals, candy and many products with a health halo – granola bars, whole grain cookies and the like.

It’s a global phenomenon that has result in even the World Health Organization tackling the problem.  Their new draft guideline   proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day. It further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.

New research published in the journal,  JAMA: Internal Medicine,   demonstrated that those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day of sugar  and men, no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men.

There’s no doubt that we should be eliminating many of the sources of these added sugars from the menu. But doing so is not always an easy task. While some are obvious sources, soft drinks, for example, other  products hide their sugars using a variety of names.  For example,  in some products,  many different forms of sugar may be used and you almost need to be a food scientist and a mathematician to calculate the sugar content of some foods.

As ingredients are listed in descending order by amount, with the first being the highest amount, you might think if you saw the  word sugar , way down the ingredient list that there wasn’t much contained.

You could be very wrong. Ingredients ending in “ose” denote some kind of sugar. It could be maltose, fructose or  glucose  or another sugar. Then there is raw sugar, brown sugar,  fruit juice concentrate,  honey, maple syrup, molasses and more – all of which translate into added sugar. If you added up each kind of sugar on some ingredient list, sugar would be the first ingredient.

Good nutrition labelling regulations would  separate the natural from the added sugars and provide numbers for added sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel. This  would go a long way in making the task of slashing sugar an easier one.

As for natural sugars, those found in whole foods such as fruits and vegetable also offer a wide array of nutrients and disease-fighting weaponry. Fruit juice, on the other hand, is not a whole food. Not only is juice missing the fibre but   a variety of phytonutrients   may  also be stripped from the fruit as it is juiced.

Now to the second matter of added sugars in other foods – those that are not obvious sources of sugar.   If these products are being used as condiments to improve the taste of dishes that are being cooked from scratch using healthy whole foods, then I don’t have a problem with them.

But using a condiment implies that the amounts are small. If you’re having some eggs with your ketchup, it’s not the same as having a little ketchup (containing sugar and sodium) with your eggs.  The same goes for barbecue sauce.  Is it a condiment or is it being used as the medium  in which you cook your meat or poultry?    Instead of a bottled barbecue sauce, cooking up one with chopped onions, tomatoes, hot sauce and some spices such as cumin and chili powder and maybe a splash of honey or maple syrup is a lower sugar alternative.

If the amounts in various condiments are adding up to significant levels, there may be a question of cooking styles and  possibly looking for new recipes that rely more on herbs and spices as seasoning instead of on prepared condiments.

As for sticking to the perimeter of the store, there are still some nutritious eats to be found in the centre aisles that offer convenience and good nutrition- canned tomatoes with no added salt,  dried legumes, canned chick peas and tuna, for example. And these days,  the outer perimeter now has stands of not so nutritious eats lurking and trying to tempt shoppers.

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What’s your take on sugar? Are you changing your sugar  consumption? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Rosie's Rants, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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