In 2009, at long last, the AHA (American Heart Association) finally declared war on sugar as the culprit in rising obesity rates. As you probably know, two out of every three Americans are overweight, and one out of every three is obese. Even though most Americans avoid eating dietary fat like it’s poison, we’re still getting fatter and fatter. Why? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s the sugar, stupid!”
The AHA has been recommending a “general” but non-specific limit on sugar consumption since 2006, but only recently set upper limits on daily sugar consumption. The guidelines for women call for no more than 100 calories per day in the form of sugar, and the guidelines for men are no more than 150 calories per day. This refers to the consumption of sugar that’s addedto foods and beverages, and not to foods that have naturally occurring sugars.
The new guidelines represent a dramatic change from current daily sugar consumption practices. According to the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), it’s estimated that the typical American intake is around 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is about 355 calories or a whopping 255 calories over the new guidelines. Most people, for example, don’t realize that just one can of sugar-sweetened soda adds 130 calories. It doesn’t sound like much, but the cumulative effect quickly adds inches and pounds to your body and increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The problem is that the nutrition labels mandated by the U.S. government do not distinguish between the sugar that occurs naturally in food and the sugar that’s been added to food by the manufacturer to make it taste better. What’s a guy or girl to do? For now, you simply cannot rely on “healthy” or “natural” claims made on the packaging. These words mean nothing; they are just marketing hype. The one and only solution is to look at the ingredients label and see for yourself what’s in the recipe.
Unfortunately, the ingredients label is usually the smallest, most hard-to-find print on the package. Your job is to put on your glasses, lift flaps, and turn the product this way and that until you find the list. Your next task is to identify the predominant foods in the recipe. The key words here are “predominant” and “food,” and this is trickier than you might think. Water, for example, is not a food. Herbs and spices are not foods. Chemicals with hard-to-pronounce names may or may not be foods. Who knows? Try to figure out the first four recognizable foods because these are the ingredients that are used the most in the recipe.
Put on your detective hat and look for words like “sugar,” “sucrose” and “high fructose corn syrup.” Don’t be fooled by terms such as organic sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar or turbinado sugar. Sugar is sugar. Your mind may think you’re getting something better, but your body isn’t fooled. All types of sugar are metabolized the same way, and they all end up making you fatter, sicker, and hungrier.
Once you start reading labels, you’ll quickly discover that sugar is in cereals that are labeled healthy, juices that are labeled healthy, yogurts that are labeled healthy, snack bars that are labeled healthy, and just about anything that comes in a package. Sugar is a food manufacturer’s dream because it’s low-fat and because people like the taste. Many sugar-free off-the-shelf products exist, but you have to be savvy enough to look for them. Try finding one the next time you go grocery shopping.
When it comes to sugar, pencil-thin Hollywood starlets are way ahead of the AHA. Sexy starlets have known for a long time now that sugar triggers cravings, adds useless calories, and stimulates the growth of inches on your body – especially in hips and belly. Jennifer Aniston, for example, doesn’t eat anything white. This means no sugar. No white flour. No white pasta. No white potatoes. According to the Enquirer (which is usually accurate, of course), “Within two weeks of jumping on the no-white-food bandwagon, Jen felt less bloated and leaner.” Jen doesn’t even allow any food that’s white to come into her house.
Consider taking a tip from the AHA and Jen, our favorite girl-next-door. Cut out just one sugary food a day, and see if it makes a difference. Drink water instead of that sugar-rich soda. You’ll save 910 calories per week, which is a little more than a pound a month and about 15 pounds a year. One ridiculously easy change really can be the breakthrough you’ve been hoping for.