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Sugar Attack! How to Cut Back on Sugar

Last issue I told you about America's increasing addiction to sugar. We're eating over three times the amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and it's one of the reasons for this country's obesity problem. This issue I'm offering you a few simple steps to help you start cutting back on all that sugar.

1. Choose your carbs well.

Walter Willett, M.D. and professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests we eat more "Coarsely ground or intact grains [because they] have a slow, low and steady effect on blood sugar and insulin levels." Examples include: Brown rice, oats, whole-wheat pasta, sprouted-wheat breads, and beans.

Read your food labels. If sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup) is the first or second ingredient, look for alternatives. When each serving on the label has more than 5 or 10 grams of sugar in it, you should look for a replacement.

2. Don't eat carbs alone.

Simple carbs breakdown into glucose rather rapidly. Mix them with fat or protein and it will be absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly, helping prevent sudden spikes in your insulin levels. Eat an apple, but put some peanut butter on it. Don't choose regular pasta and tomato sauce; try whole-wheat pasta with meat sauce. Keep in mind you may have to reduce your carbs when you combine, you shouldn't simply pile on additional calories.

3. Learn more about spices.

These will help you get over your carb withdrawal. Try wasabi or salsas. Add lemon or lime zest to salads and green vegetables. Olive oil is wonderful on morning toast in place of jelly.

4. Don't fool yourself.

Switching from one type of sugar to another isn't a plan. Substituting honey for white sugar may make you feel better emotionally, but your body is still getting the same amount of sucrose. You have to cut back on your overall sucrose consumption.

5. Don't be afraid of the substitutes.

Sweet'N Low, Equal and Splenda are sensible options and you can now get versions of them to cook with. Depending on how they're used, they taste good and won't spike your blood sugar. Just remember the basics.

First, artificial sweeteners are (for the most part) safe. In the 1980s there were references to studies that showed the main ingredient in Sweet'N Low; saccharin, was linked to cancer. Later studies rebuked that claim when it was revealed that humans would have to consume enormous quantities of the artificial sweetener to even approach the levels given to lab rats. Further research has now shown that almost anything can be cancerous if given in the amounts originally administered in the saccharin study. Obesity is far more damaging to the health of most people than any theoretical risks these sugar replacements may pose.

Second, if you don't like the taste, experiment. If Equal has a metallic taste and Sweet'N Low is too bitter, try combing one of each in your drink. Still not working for you? Try Splenda, or one of the artificial sweeteners with a little real sugar.

Third, if you're trying to lose weight, don't expect it to happen just because you've cut down on sugar. You have to reduce the total calories you're consuming, not just the sugars. A sugar free snack is not an excuse to binge.

Sweet'N Low Picture and Link
Equal Picture and Link
Splenda Picture and Link

6. Read the fine print.

Labels that scream "fat free" aren't necessarily healthy. In many cases the fat has been replaced with sugar. Some foods "low-fat" versions are better for you than their "fat free" alternatives. Compare the nutritional labels.

Cutting down on simple sugars isn't a magic bullet to better health. But if you try and follow these suggestions and limit your intake according to the WHO recommendations, approximately 40 to 55 grams of sugar per person per day, you'll be taking a giant step toward better health.

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1/9/2005