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Expat Life

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? How about ‘eat less sugar!’

Sugar is a very hot topic of late. Some experts say sugar is singularly responsible for the world obesity crises, but others say it’s only one factor.

How much do you know about sugar? Take this quick quiz to see. Click on the “Answer” following the choices.

  1. The white sugar we know as table sugar is:
    1. Fructose
    2. Glucose
    3. Lactose
    4. Sucrose

Answer: 4. Sucrose is a sweet, short-chain soluble carbohydrate.  It is a disaccharide composed of fructose and glucose. Fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (also known as dextrose) are monosaccharides. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk, and is also a disaccharide.

  1. Which of these sweeteners are made from a plant?
    1. Sucralose
    2. Splenda
    3. Stevia
    4. Sorbitol

Answer: 3. Stevia is 300 times as sweet as sugar, and is considered a no-calorie a plant-based sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant. Many packaged varieties have additives and preservatives.

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  1. The World Health Organization recommends people limit to how many teaspoons of added sugar daily?
    1. 3
    2. 6
    3. 10
    4. 20

Answer: 6. The WHO has lowered its recommendation to no more than 6 added teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar daily. The USA takes the cake when it comes to sugar consumption, about 20 added teaspoons, or 126 grams or ¼ pound daily, or 66 pounds yearly. The Pan American Health Organization notes that sugar consumption in Latin America is growing significantly, and cites research that shows that children with the highest intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese compared with children with low intake.

  1. When reading a food label, “1 gram of sugar” equals:
    1. ¼ teaspoon
    2. 1/3 teaspoon
    3. ½ teaspoon
    4. 1 teaspoon

Answer: 1. One gram equals ¼ teaspoon; one teaspoon of sugar (level teaspoon) equals 4 grams.  For example, one can of regular soda has about 32 grams, or 8 teaspoons of sugar…in one can!

  1. You’re trying to limit added sugars: you read ingredient labels to avoid:
    1. Cane sugar
    2. Molasses
    3. Concentrated fruit juice
    4. All of the above

Answer: 4. There are so many ways to say “sugar” and savvy consumers pay attention to listed ingredients.  If you’re buying ice cream or candy, yes, sugar is going to be right here up on top, but pasta sauce? Salad dressing?  Should the first ingredient in a kids’ breakfast cereal be sugar?  Fructose, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, brown sugar, agave, honey, and fruit juice concentrate are all forms of sugar and the body recognizes and absorbs all sugars the same way as sucrose.  Disaccharides, isomalt, maltodextrin, rice milk and the “ols” such as mannitol, zylitol, and glucitol all indicate a type of sugar with calories.

  1. Does eating sugar give you diabetes?
    1. Yes
    2. No

Answer: No, eating sugar doesn’t give you diabetes, but 80-90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Type 1 (insulin dependent) and Type 2 (insulin resistant or insulin deficiency) diabetes are two different diseases with the common symptom of high blood sugar. You may eat no added sugars at all and still get diabetes, but eating and drinking excessive sugar can contribute to an unhealthy diet and weight gain, which can raise your risk for type 2 diabetes.

New Year 2017: Eat Less Sugar

Last year I wrote a column about how the U.S. Dietary Recommendations were slowly creeping toward putting an actual limit on the number of recommended daily intake of sugar.  Although other countries have long ago addressed the problem of excessive sugar consumption, not so the U.S.A.

A researcher from the University of California, San Francisco had published a paper in the JAMA Internal Medicine suggesting that Five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

The study showed that a group of experts working together, funded by the sugar industry, created recommendations that downplayed the role of sugar in the development of obesity and associated epidemics of diabetes and heart disease, and instead demonized fat.

In 1967, at least three Harvard scientists, selected by the Sugar Research Foundation, an industry-backed trade group, received substantial compensation ($50,000 — a lot of money at the time) to publish favorable data associated with sugar consumption. In 1977, the McGovern Report issued new nutritional guidelines, suggesting Americans eat less fat and cholesterol.

But subsequent research did not support “low” or “no” fat diets.  In fact, obesity rates soared! Dietitians, researchers and health experts pushed back; finally this past January 2016 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines which eliminates the blanket restriction of cholesterol and for the first time recommends a limit on added sugars. As reported on CNN Health, current guidelines recommend a “healthy eating pattern” with limited sugar and saturated fat, less salt and more vegetables and whole grains.

Current U.S. recommendation for added sugar is 10% of your daily calories. If you’re eating a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet that’s about 50 grams, or 12 ½ teaspoons of added sugar.That’s a lot more than the six teaspoons recommended by the WHO. Great Britain takes a stronger stand and states that free or added sugars “shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day.”

You’ve probably noticed that in Latin America (just like in North America) people eat a lot of sugar.  It is everywhere. From sodas to energy drinks to ice cream and desserts…most almuerzos are served with “juice”…but I’ve found that many are more like Kool-Aid than 100% fruit juice.

In Cuenca, kids (and adults) walk down the street sucking on those flavored stick ices in a plastic tube; I see the empty wrappers everywhere. Ecuadorian health ministers cite overweight and obesity as a national health concern, especially in the younger population. Many experts link it to excess consumption of sugar.

Read the Labels

In Ecuador grams of added sugar is a clearly displayed line item on the Nutrition Facts label. The “Traffic Light” label lets consumers see at a glance if a product is alto (high-red), medio (medium-yellow), or bajo (low-green) in a particular nutrient.  Do some label reading on boxes of breakfast cereal.  See if you can find a product with 4 grams or less of added sugar (one teaspoon.)

Always read the ingredients list first. Ingredients are listed in descending order: the ingredient that takes up the most volume or weight is listed first. If sugar is near the top of the list, in any iteration including honey, malt, brown sugar, or fruit juice concentrate, the food is likely to be high in added sugars.


Sugar is a carbohydrate but not all carbohydrates contain “added sugars”

Yogurt is a good example of how manufacturers make healthy food unhealthy. A cup of unsweetened, natural yogurt contains about 11 grams of carbohydrate — all from naturally occurring lactose. But grab one of those “fruit” yogurts and all bets are off.  Flavored yogurts are really sweet…some contain up to 25 grams of added sugar per serving!

In 2017, resolve to taste your foods, not just sweet. If you want to add some sugar, buy unsweetened yogurts or cereals and add your own…I guaranty you’ll add far less than what’s added by the manufacturer.

Sugar is not poison, it is…sugar. Humans have been enjoying it in different forms for thousands of years…but not in the amount we’re eating it today.

Natural, unrefined sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are sweet and have minute amounts of nutrients, but they’re not health foods, they are sweeteners.

Sugar won’t make you sick but too much sugar will. When everything you drink is sweetened, then that’s what your taste buds expect. Some people call that a “craving” for sweet-tasting foods. Take a look at this 50 year-old video from Jack LaLanne. He knew what he was talking about, all those years ago.

Sources: New U.S. dietary guidelines limit sugar, rethink cholesterol. Big Fat Sugar Science Arouses Passions.

JAMA Internal Medicine.  Food Industry Funding of Nutritional Research. Science Now. Sugar industry funded research to cast doubt on sugar’s health hazards, report says. How the sugar industry shifted blame to fat.

NHS Choices. How does sugar in our diet affect our health?

Pan American Health Organization. PAHO and WHO urge countries to reduce sugar consumption among adults and children. Top Sugar Consuming Nations In The World.  Jack LaLanne “Sugarholics”.