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How Sweet It Is! Navigating Sugar in the Headlines

02.07.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

AP Photo

By Jane Jakubczak, MPH, RD, CSSD LDN; Redskins Dietitian

Sugar has hit the headlines again this week.

Each time the sweet stuff makes the national news, I cringe a little bit. The sensationalizing of journalism can often “scare” audiences into taking drastic measures to avoid the spotlighted villain of the week.

I agree 100% that most of us need to reduce the non-nutritive, added sugar in our diets. However, I often see my clients “throwing out the baby with the bath water” when it comes to sugar by attempting to take ALL the sugar out of their diets.

Just this past weekend, I was presenting to a group of very knowledgeable and experienced professionals in the fitness industry. A participant admitted she was avoiding milk because she noticed there is 12 grams of sugar per serving. I quickly explained the sugar in milk is lactose, a natural part of dairy. If she had continued to avoid milk in her diet, she would have been missing out on the wealth of nutrients milk provides including calcium, protein, vitamin D, potassium and riboflavin (for more on the benefits of milk, click here).

Added vs. Natural Sugar

It is important to understand that the sugar we need to reduce in our diet is the ADDED sugar. Added sugar provides extra calories without offering nutrients. Conversely, there are many NATURAL sugars in our diet, including lactose in dairy products and fructose in fruit that are part of nutrient dense foods. Avoiding these food groups could significantly hamper your ability to meet all your nutrient needs.

What is misleading to many is the grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts Label does not distinguish between ADDED and NATURAL sugar. To discover whether the sugar is ADDED sugar, consumers need to dig deeper and read the ingredient list. For a list of names that indicate added sugar, click here.

If reading labels is not your thing, a simple way to reduce the added sugar in your diet is to limit the following:

- Regular Soda Pop & Energy Drinks
- Fruit Drinks
- Lemonade
- Sweet Tea
- Specialty Coffee Drinks
- Sugary Cereals
- Syrup
- Cookies
- Cakes
- Candy
- Donuts
- Pastries
- Pie
- Ice Cream

A Word About Sports Drinks

As a sports dietitian I consider sports drink a valuable part of an athletes diet, however I recommend my athletes limit consumption of sports drink to workouts, practice and competition. Sports drink contains added sugar, which is helpful to fuel an athlete’s muscles during exercise however, sipping on sports drink throughout the day and during meals is not recommended.

The bottom line when it comes to added sugar is to be aware and practice moderation. I truly believe that a healthy diet should include treats! To learn more about how these treats (also known as "discretionary calories") can be included into an overall healthy diet, visit choosemyplate.gov.

This week’s challenge for you is to continue to keep your food record (read my past blog on the importance of keeping a food log) and notice how many of the foods listed above are part of your diet. Remember, assessment is the first step to any change.

So, do you need to make a change?

Once you have your “data," ask yourself the following to determine if and where you need to make a change:

Are you meeting all your nutritional needs?

For example, before you reach for the ice cream, ask yourself if you’ve met all your dairy exchanges for the day? If not, grab a yogurt instead. Have you met all your fruit exchanges? If not, grab a bowl of grapes. To learn your individual food group exchange requirements, click here.

Are you at a healthy weight?

Since weight loss is all about creating a calorie deficit, each calorie you do eat on a weight loss plan needs to be providing you with nutrition. If your goal is to shed a few pounds, take extra care in limiting “empty calories”. For more info on healthy weight loss, click here.

I hope this blog has helped put sugar in perspective – like anything in life, moderation is key!

Make it a healthy week,
Jane

Leave your nutrition questions and comments below and I'll answer them in an upcoming post!

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