Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

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With the return of holiday sweet treats, you may be thinking more about sugar these days. For example, what is the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars? Are honey, “raw” sugar and agave better for you than white sugar? How much sugar is okay to eat?

Sugar: The Sweet Stuff

Sugar has been called many things from delicious to toxic. As a result, confusion and misconceptions exist. One thing we know for sure— research shows that limiting added sugars is a good idea when it comes to your health. Added sugars provide extra calories in your diet leading to weight gain, which increases risk for metabolic problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

What is the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars?

Naturally occurring sugars are found in some vegetables, as well as fruit, white milk and plain yogurt. Since these foods are also high in vitamins and minerals, you need not worry about including them in your diet. In contrast, added sugars are incorporated into foods either at the table, or during processing to provide sweetness and improve flavour, colour, texture and shelf life. Added sugars are the ones to minimize in your diet.

Are honey, “raw” sugar and agave better for you than white sugar?

Some people believe that sugars such as honey, “raw” sugar and agave are better for you since they are more natural. However, the truth is that sugar is sugar. More natural types of sugars and processed sugars have the same nutritional value (approximately four calories per gram, the same as protein and other carbohydrates) and are handled similarly by the body. All added sugars when consumed in excess have adverse metabolic effects. Thus, when aiming to reduce your added sugar intake, these more natural sugars should be limited too.

What happens in your body when you eat sugar?

Sugars typically contain one or two sugar molecules that get digested and absorbed quickly by the body, which is why you may experience a spike in energy followed by a crash when you eat high sugar foods. Most sugars break down into about half fructose and half glucose (white table sugar is made up of 50% of each component), with the exception of agave (88% fructose) and corn syrup (100% glucose).

How much added sugar is okay to eat?

An upper limit for total and added sugars has not been set because there is not enough scientific evidence to support one. Most calories in our diet should come from nutrient-rich foods. Thus, the World Health Organization recommends that added sugars be limited to less than 10% of total calories for the day. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, this would be a maximum of 200 calories or 13 tsp of added sugars. For someone eating 1,500 calories per day, this would be a maximum of 150 calories or 9 tsp of added sugars

How do I know how much added sugar is in a food?

The ingredient list on food labels can help you identify added sugars. Look for ingredients that end in “ose” (glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose) as well as sources such as corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup and molasses. The Nutrition Facts table can also help you. It shows total sugars, both natural and added. If the food has little or no milk or fruit (which contain naturally-occurring sugars), the grams of “sugars” will tell you how much added sugar is in the product. To calculate teaspoons of sugar in a food, divide the number of grams by four (8 grams sugar = 2 teaspoons).

What are the top food sources of added sugar?

Much of the added sugar in our diets comes from regular soft drinks, sugars/sweets, sweetened grains (cake, cookies) and fruit drinks (fruit punch, fruit ade). These categories provide a good starting point for reducing extra sugar in your diet. For example, one can of regular pop contains about ten teaspoons of added sugar. Thus, making changes to your food choices can have a big impact on your added sugar intake.

Where do sugar cravings come from?

A few reasons exist as to why we may crave sugar. We are born with receptors on our tongue for sweetness. Its palatability can increase appetite and we can get into a habit of consuming sugar as it releases good mood chemicals in our brain. Learn more about managing your food cravings to help you eat healthily through the holiday season and beyond.

Article posted on December 1, 2012

Active Tip

Vigorous activity can rev up your metabolci rate for up to 7 hours after your workout. That means you continue to burn calories long after you towel off.

The Expert Says

“Using your added sugars for the day to enhance the flavour of nutrient-rich foods such as whole grain oatmeal or calcium-rich yogurt can help you boost the quality of your diet” says registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute. “If you choose to use your added sugars on treat foods, be mindful of the portion size, and listen to your hunger cues to determine how much you need to be satisfied.”

Related Links

The Truth about Sugar Addiction – WebMD
The Truth about Sugar – WebMD
Sugars and Carbohydrates – American Heart Association
The Truth about Sugar – FAQs – Eat Right Ontario