Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: 3 Tips for Eating Less Sugar

  • Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Obese children are more likely to have–
    • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.
    • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
    • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, and asthma.
    • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
    • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
    • Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.


Last week I gave a talk to about 150 mothers and their teenage daughters.  I was asked to talk about nutrition and wellness.  What could I possibly say about such a broad topic to get their attention and improve their health literacy? 

Sugar was the answer.  The one most important change we can all make is to increase our awareness of sugar, how much of it we consume every day, and how much better our health will be when we reduce our consumption of it.  Sugar is found in so many foods and drinks and disguised as so many names, it can be overwhelming once you start increasing your awareness of it. 

Why should you care about eating (and drinking) too much sugar?  Eating too much sugar, with its “empty calories”, can lead to obesity.  Remember, all carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and sugars are carbohydrates.  Sugar sets off inflammation in the body and inflammation is directly related to diabetes, chronic pain, and obesity.   Reducing cellular inflammation is key to maintaining optimal health. 

Here are 3 tips you can use to eat (and drink) less sugar:
1.  Read food labels and look for any ingredient that ends in “-ose”.  These are sugars.   Some products (such as Pop Tarts and most breakfast cereals) include many different sugars, not just one.   

2.  Read food labels to see if the first ingredient is sugar.  Ingredients are listed in order with the ingredient used the most listed first.  If sugar is the first ingredient listed on the label, keep shopping for a similar product where sugar is not the first ingredient.

3.  Look at how many grams of sugar there are per serving.  Sugar is the bad kind of carbohydrate (fiber is the good kind).  Divide the grams of sugar by 4 and that will tell you how many of teaspoons of sugar there are in one serving.  Young kids (preschool-elementary school) should consume no more than 16 grams of sugar a day (or 4 teaspoons).  Tween and teens should eat and drink no more than 32 grams of sugar a day (or 8 teaspoons). 

In a demonstration, I showed parents that one bottle of Brisk, a beverage marketed to kids, contains a whooping 19 teaspoons of sugar!  What a lesson it was for everyone in the room because, judging from the response, I hit a nerve.

Teach your children to become nutrition detectives.  Start by looking at the amount of sugar in the breakfast cereals you are feeding your kids.   Our kids do not deserve to be starting their day all jacked up on refined sugars, which is the case for most kids in America who have a bowl of Sugar Smacks or Fruit Loops.  You should have heard the collective groan from the teenage girls in the room last week when I suggested to all the mothers at the conference that the best thing they can do is to never buy another box of Pop Tarts or Honey Buns again.  

Choose to eat less processed sugar.  See you next week!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Growing Healthy Kids

PS - For some great breakfast ideas for your family, check out one of my favorite sites for healthy, delicious recipes, The Jazzy Vegetarian. Click here.