Watching Sugar in Your Diet
By Julie DuBois
Many people are aware that what we eat can be overloaded with sugar these days. While people may be making a conscious effort to reduce their sugar intake, they may be missing many sources of hidden sugars. Sugars, while naturally occurring in many foods, can lead to an array of health problems such as diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease and dental troubles when eaten in excess. Beyond these problems, it can also lead to hyperactivity, yeast infections, depression and digestive issues.
The first step in reducing sugars in your diet is to cut out the obvious sources. These are usually sugary beverages such as sodas, sweet tea or fruit drinks/juices, candy, cookies, cakes and other sweets.
Many people don’t realize is that there are hidden sugars in a lot of products that are labeled in a way to make you think they are “healthy.” The quickest and easiest way to avoid these hidden sugars is to avoid processed foods. Stick with natural products such as fruits (which do have naturally occurring sugars), vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats.
There are key ingredients to look for when trying to reduce sugar in your daily diet. Looking for the word “sugar” is a great first start. If it is in the first few ingredients, stay away from that product. Also, try to stay away from adding table sugar to your foods. Brown sugar is another commonly recognized form of sugar. It is basically the same as white sugar, and needs to be limited, or eliminated, when adding to foods.
Molasses, agave, and honey are other more “natural” forms of sugar, but they are still sugar. Some people switch to using one of these, but they still need to be used in moderation. All of these sources will cause an insulin spike. High fructose corn syrup is common in sugary beverages, as well as many processed foods such as granola bars and “healthy” protein bars. Stay away from the high fructose corn syrup if you can.
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet and Low, while calorie free, may not be much better. A lot of research has been done, and is currently still in progress, that looks into the insulin response of the body after ingesting artificial sweeteners. Check out RD Jess Kolko’s recent post about what they are finding.
If you are trying to watch your sugar intake, get familiar with reading nutrition fact labels. Look at both the ingredient list and the sugar content. Try to avoid processed foods and sugary beverages, as well as the other obvious sources of sugar. Pay closer attention to those foods that you think are healthy like granola bars and protein bars, as many of these are packed with sugar. Low-fat foods are also typically very high in sugar. Be careful with sugar alcohols (sugar substitutes and ‘sugar-like’ substances) as well, as these tend to cause digestive discomfort in many people. Sticking with a whole food, natural-based diet is your best bet in the battle against sugar!
Julie DuBois, RD, LD, CPT is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and a Certified Personal Trainer. Julie is a Registered Dietitian at Cook Children's Health Care System in Texas, and also provides sports nutrition consulting to individuals and groups. Because Julie has celiac disease and ulcerative colitis, she enjoys teaching people how to follow a gluten-free diet and symptom management through dietary therapy.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.