“Sugar, ah honey honey, you are my candy girl, and you got me wanting you.”
You all know the song, but here are a few things that you need to know about sugar (honey honey).
Sugar is the generic name for sweet, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in foods.
Your brain responds to sugar the same way it would to cocaine. Eating sugar creates a surge of the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. So does using certain drugs, like cocaine. And just like a drug, your body craves more after the initial high. "You then become addicted to that feeling, so every time you eat it you want to eat more," explains Gina Sam, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.
So why is sugar so bad for our bodies? Sugar intake causes an increase in blood sugar. Increased blood sugar creates an insulin spike. When insulin spikes, the body will use what it needs for energy, then turns unused sugar directly into fat storage. And most of us do not need anywhere close to the amount of sugar we take in.
The World Health Organization is dropping its sugar intake recommendations from 10 percent of your daily calorie intake to 5 percent. For an adult of a normal body mass index (BMI), that works out to about 6 teaspoons -- or 25 grams -- of sugar per day.
No problem, right? That’s what I thought anyway. That was until I started looking at the ingredient lists of boxed foods, condiments, yogurts and so on.
An easy way to think of sugar is this: 4 grams of sugar on a label is equal to 1 teaspoon (tsp) of sugar. So if we wanted to be generous and give ourselves 35 grams of sugar per day that is 8.75 tsp of sugar.
Here’s an example of sugar reduction in one woman: my wife. Kristina wanted to make a change in her sugar intake for personal reasons. Now we are somewhat of self-proclaimed sugar junkies--we love our sweets! I told her I would support her...as I was finishing my evening bowl of ice cream. To be honest, we enjoyed our desserts, but other than that, we didn’t feel like we overindulged on sugar on a daily basis. When Kristina started paying attention, however, we realized our sugar intake tallied up very quickly. We also realized how difficult it is to stay within 25-35 grams of sugar per day.
Now we are not going to be those people that require special foods or menus from friends and family when we visit. We just wanted to cut out extra sugars. Easier said than done. Kristina was amazing and dedicated, despite telling me every time she was craving sweets--which was quite often in the beginning.
In just over 6 months, Kristina dropped 18 lbs with doing nothing other than reducing extra sugars from her diet, for example: limiting sodas, desserts, fancy coffees, and processed foods. Now again, she didn’t say she would never eat sugars, and she still allows herself sugar in whole foods such as fruit. She is just mindful of extra and added sugars. She will still have a bite or two of dessert we may share, and she will have a couple sips of my soda when we are out to eat if I order one. The changes that she made are simple choices that she can do for a lifetime and not feel like she has to give up the food she enjoys. No fad diets, no magic pills or supplements, just dedication to her goal of reducing extra sugars in her food choices.
Obviously, Kristina is just one person and everyone may not have the same results she did, but it sure makes you think! Personally, you will see me eating sugary substances because I know that this is part of what I like to do, and I have been honest with myself. I could not and would not want to eliminate them for the rest of my life. This is where moderation and the timeframe in which I eat these sugars matters. If you are going to moderate your sugar, remember to give your body time to utilize the sugars. Maybe eat sweets earlier in the day so your body has some extra time to burn it off. If you have difficulty with leaving behind the sugary snack, offset that with some extra exercise. You have to make time to burn off the extra calories you have taken in. Being honest with yourself has to be key. If you're going to eat a sugary item and do not plan to hold yourself accountable for a little extra exercise, how can you expect to see any positive results?
There are many helpful apps that you can download to make tracking these items easier and allows you much greater accountability to yourself if you're serious about it. Search items such as calorie counter in the app store. I have used My Fitness Pal and have found it easy to use. Using the My Fitness Pal App, I looked up some items to show you the sugars in some basic foods below that adults and children seem to enjoy.
- Dannon Light & Fit vanilla yogurt 6 oz is 9 grams or 2.25 tsp of sugar. The sad part is this is one of the very few yogurts with this “low” sugar content. Many of them will take you to 14 and more grams of sugar for a 6 oz cup. So it has 14 grams or 3.5 tsp of sugar in that small little container, and yet, people eat yogurt as a “healthy” snack when they are trying to lose weight.
- McDonald's 12 oz Latte 13 grams or 3.25 tsp of sugar.
- Starbucks/many coffee shop 16 oz latte 17 grams or 4.25 tsp of sugar, while a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato 12oz (my wife’s favorite) is a whopping 25 grams or 6.25 tsp of sugar.
- McDonald's 4 oz cheeseburger 7.4 grams or 1.85 tsp of sugar
- Monster Original green energy drink 16 oz 54 grams or 13.5 tsp of sugar
- McDonalds Double Cheeseburger Meal (Hold onto your shorts) 62 grams or 15.5 tsp of sugar!! You have now eaten 2 days worth of sugar in one meal.
- Pepsi 20oz bottle 69 grams or 17.25 tsp of sugar. When you consume a bottle of soda, you’ve had two days worth of sugar in one drink!
- Captain Crunch ¾ cup dry 12 grams or 3 tsp of sugar
- Strawberry Frosted Poptarts 16 grams or 4 tsp of sugar
- Orange Juice 8 oz / 1 cup 22 grams or 5.5 tsp of sugar
- Chocolate milk 8 oz / 1 cup 25 grams or 6.25 tsp of sugar
With all these examples, let's take a detour real quick and think about the kids.
Moms, dads, grandparents, or whoever is feeding the youngsters before they head off to school, how much sugar are you sending them out the door with? Even worse, what do school-sponsored breakfasts consist of? Sometimes these meals are consisting of Poptarts, chocolate milk, fruit juice, muffins, yogurt…..sugar, sugar, sugar. They have consumed several days’ worth of sugar in one sitting. No matter who is feeding them, are we doing the best we can for our kids’ health and overall well-being? Not only is it affecting our kids, but are we also setting ourselves up for a mid-morning sugar crash with the foods we go to for breakfast?
Now you know some of the sugar content for some basic items, but what about the serving size? Captain Crunch is only a serving size of a ¾ cup. Seriously? Who really eats a ¾ cup of dry cereal? I took the time to measure it out with the spoon I use to eat my cereal with--the smaller (teaspoon) size. Ten to eleven spoonfuls is all it amounts to. Maybe for some that is pretty average, but next time you watch your spouse, kids or even yourself pour out that bowl of cereal, think about how much are you really serving yourself. Go ahead measure it out next time because I know you're curious.
If we are going to eliminate and/or watch our sugar intake we have to briefly touch base on sugar substitutes, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. The FDA defines sweeteners as: “…commonly used as sugar substitutes or sugar alternatives because they are many times sweeter than sugar but contribute only a few or no calories when added to foods”. This is an area where you will have to do some research and see which ones work best with your goals. There are better ones than others, but like most things, this will be determined by you as the consumer.
Other sweeteners, which are often used in diet foods, food labeled as “sugar-free” and sugar-free gum are sugar alcohols. Per the FDA: “Sugar alcohols are slightly lower in calories than sugar and do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose”. The most common sugar alcohols are Maltitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Erythritol, and Isomalt (it’s a lot of names to remember so I generally just categorize them as the “ols”). They do indeed affect your blood sugar less than regular sugar, but their main problem is that they also work as laxatives. This means that they most likely will give you gas or cause bloating.
With all this being said, something that is important for you to understand -- and you will hear me say it on many occasions -- is that I am going to show you one way to look at nutrition, health, and fitness. This is not the only way, but just a way.
This Week's Challenge For You:
- Take 60 minutes and watch Fed Up and/or Super Size Me (see below).
- Calculate your sugar intake for a day, in all of your foods, not just the sweets. Be honest with yourself and the size of the portions you eat.
- Then shoot for 5 days of sugar to be under 35 grams.
Want an eye opener about sugar? Watch the movie Fed Up on Netflix.
Want an eye-opener about fast food? Watch the movie Super Size Me on Netflix.
About Matt Dryden: Matt has been offering personal training services in fitness and nutrition for over 12 years. He began his interest in Health and Fitness while working as a Correctional Officer and Police Chief when he realized that in this profession that those men and women should have the fitness level of being able to protect and serve the people he has sworn to do so. Matt went on to become a certified personal trainer and began educating and helping fellow officers in setting and working toward their goals in fitness.
Matt started his gym, The Body Shop Fitness Centers, in Shell Lake in 2007 and now offers locations in Shell Lake, Spooner, and Trego, Wisconsin. These locations offer a wide variety of fitness training opportunities unique to each location. To find out more, visit The Body Shop Fitness Center website or Facebook page.