Shunning Sugar? UW Health Nutritionist Tells You How

Woman pointing to a food labelMADISON - "Sugar shunning" is shockingly strenuous, according to a UW Health preventive cardiology nutritionist.


"It is extremely difficult to look at a food label and accurately figure out how much of the sugar content is added," says Gail Underbakke about a dietary method promoted by talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.


The American Heart Association says women should consume no more than 100 calories, or six teaspoons, of added sugar a day. For men, the recommended upper limit is 150 calories or nine teaspoons. While in most situations food labels are informative, discerning the amount of sugar in foods is tricky.

"There are natural sugars in many foods, including milk and fruit. But natural sugars and added sugars are combined in the sugar total on the label," says Underbakke.


She says one way to get a handle on the amount of added sugar is to think about how the food has gotten to your plate. And it comes down to whole versus processed foods.


"Oatmeal, just the oats, is an unprocessed food. But if you buy the single-serving packets, they will likely have added sugar as part of processing that food," said Underbakke.


A red flag should go up when you encounter liquid sugars like soda and fruit juice. Underbakke says soda contains a shocking amount of sugar-10 teaspoons in a 12-ounce serving and a whopping 36 teaspoons in a 44-ounce soda that you'd get at a convenience store or fast-food restaurant. The super duper 54-ounce size has one cup and two tablespoons of sugar, enough to make an eight-inch-square cake!


Underbakke advises to check for fruit-juice concentrates in the list of ingredients. Many products labeled "no sugar added" use these concentrates as a sweetener, since they are technically not considered an added sugar for labeling purposes. But, foods sweetened with fruit juice concentrates are just as high in calories as foods sweetened with sugar, and the added nutrition is insignificant.


If you want to go cold turkey on sugar, Underbakke says it could take three to five weeks to feel more energetic and healthy and to start enjoying the taste of less sweet foods. But she notes that sugar sense shouldn't be all or nothing and that people can stay healthy even while enjoying moderate amounts of sugar each day.


Underbakke says the trick is to eat mostly whole foods to reduce sugar intake.


"And actually, the more whole food you eat, the better you're able to buffer the effects of sugar."

Date Published: 10/29/2010

News tag(s):  heartfood and nutrition

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