These days many would consider "sugar" a bad word. The basis for such thinking is flawed, and the important thing to note is that sugar, in any of its forms, is not the enemy of our diets. Just like everything else, sugar needs to be consumed in moderation. It doesn't make sense to completely eliminate sugar from our diet.
When we blame just one nutrient as the fault in our eating regime we tend to lose the focus on our entire dietary pattern. It seems that carbohydrate chemistry and the human metabolism is much more complex than we originally thought and understood, so before you take any action, let's debunk three common sugar myths right now.
Myth #1: Is sugar toxic?
Stating sugar is toxic is not only irresponsible, it is incorrect. And its comparison to alcohol and tobacco is simply not reasonable. Describing sugar as toxic is extreme and it diverts attention away from the real problem of total overconsumption by North Americans.
It is too simplistic and unhelpful to blame sugar alone for the health crisis. Sugar is a food that is part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Sugar is a source of energy (calories) for the brain and working muscles. Sugar is seldom eaten alone, but more often as an ingredient in foods that contribute fibre, vitamins and minerals such as fruits, vegetables, grain and milk products. It is not sugar that is the dietary delinquent, but the portion or dose people consume it in that is the concern.
Myth #2: Is there a sugar 'silver bullet' for your meal plan?
The answer is no. Just as completely cutting sugar out of the diet is not a silver bullet, considering one form of sugar as better than the rest is not scientifically substantiated. As North Americans, we consume a mix of sugars in our diets, including sucrose, fructose and glucose. Did you know table sugar -- known as sucrose -- and high fructose corn syrup have a similar composition of 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose? And the popular natural sweetener agave syrup averages 84 per cent fructose. So what does this mean to you? Translating the scientific information of sugar into accurate, easy-to-understand information for the consumer is necessary to achieve accurate health literacy, and to date, this has not been successfully done.
Many times we hear high-level statistics and findings from studies about sugar being a silver bullet or dietary delinquent and aren't given full detail on how the study was conducted or who the study was conducted on. The takeaway here is simple. Remember these three questions: 1) Are the diets in the study artificially contrived and based on animal models (e.g. not resembling a typical human diet)? 2) Was there over-feeding of one particular sugar or ingredient in the experimental diets? 3) Who were the participants in the study? All of these answers will help us to best interpret the study findings.
Myth #3: Is sugar the cause of obesity?
Stating sugar is the sole cause of obesity is not true. Obesity is a complex disease with many factors. Weight gain is a result of an imbalance between energy intake from all foods and beverages, and energy output (including basic body functions and physical activity). Sugar, like other carbohydrates, contributes calories. However, in terms of body weight, there is nothing unique about the calories from sugar. The same holds true for other sources of carbohydrates as well as protein and fat. In fact, fat has twice the number of calories as carbohydrates per weighted serving. Because no single factor causes weight gain, avoiding one specific food group or nutrient will not stop weight gain or lead to weight loss. If you need to lose weight, a slow and steady approach which exemplifies the notion of a balanced diet is needed for long-term success.
It is the overall quality and quantity of our diet that matters to long term health. Identifying just one villainous or virtuous nutrient is not only negligent; it also does not provide consumers with a rational approach to their daily and long-term dietary strategy. Remember: Balance is key!
Jane Dummer is a registered dietitian and expert in nutrition. Jane serves as a consultant to the food and beverage industry, including The Coca-Cola Company.
One option, and perhaps the most popular, is to eat or drink the sugar-free versions of your favourite sugary foods and beverages, like soda. When it comes to dessert or a snack, sugar-free Jell-O is a “free” food in a type 2 diabetes diet that can give you a little sweetness. However, warns Dr. Hannon, some sugar substitutes might interfere with your ability to control blood sugars, so go easy on these products.
Canned or bottled tomato sauce is a key ingredient in many meals, from pizza to spaghetti, but using store-bought sauce in your dish may add a surprising amount of sugar. The answer is to make your own simple sauce. “Simmer canned, chopped tomatoes on the stove with herbs you like,” says Hannon. “Even if you add a teaspoon or two of sugar, it would still be less than in the bottle.” Another option is to simply blend store-bought sauce with canned tomatoes to reduce the amount of sugar in each portion.
Is a candy jar part of your desk’s decor? What might be a welcoming treat for visitors can become a trap for you and your sugar habit. “If you take one piece in the morning, one later on, and so on, by the end of the day you may have eaten 10 pieces,” Hannon says. Moving the jar or getting rid of it entirely will help you limit your sugar intake and stick to your type 2 diabetes diet.
Sugar-sweetened fruit products like fruit roll-ups, fruit leather, and juice drinks give the illusion of being healthy options for a diabetes diet, but they really aren’t, says Hannon. Replace these choices with one serving of whole fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings with a nutritious, reduced-sugar option. The great thing about fruit is that you can easily eyeball a serving — it’s about the size of a baseball.
Bottled salad dressings are surprisingly high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, says Hannon. But for many people, a tasty dressing enhances the pleasure of eating salad. Experiment with making your own dressings to limit the amount of sugar in your salad. By using a homemade dressing, you’ll also be able to control other ingredients that affect your overall health as well as your diabetes, such as the type of oil you use or the amount of salt you add.
Low-fat dairy products are good for people with type 2 diabetes, but skip those strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla varieties. Flavoured milk contains a lot of added sugar, Hannon notes. If you really want milk with a little added sweetness, experiment with mixing in sugar-free syrups or just use the smallest amount of a sugar-based one to get a little added flavor. Likewise, opt for plain yogurt and add your own chopped fresh fruit for a sweet taste.
Granola, a main staple in many trail mixes, could quickly top out your sugar quota for the day, especially if the mix also includes a touch of chocolate or sugary nuts. You can improve your diabetes numbers by making your own trail mix with plain nuts, oats, and some dried fruit — and by sticking to a reasonable serving of your treat.
Even seemingly healthy boxed breakfast cereals may contain sugar that you don’t really need or want in your daily diabetes meal plan. Look for breakfast choices that do not contain refined flours or added sugar. For example, a slice of whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter and some fruit could be a good alternative. Beware of hidden sugar when eating out for breakfast. “Oatmeal at fast-food restaurants can be high in sugar,” warns Hannon.
A simple switch that can improve your diet is choosing whole-grain foods over refined flour ones, such as whole-grain pasta instead of white pasta and whole-grain bread instead of white. Unfortunately, whole-grain alternatives are often costlier. In tight economies, it’s essential to look for supermarket sales that help you maximize food dollars, allowing you to continue to buy the building blocks of your healthy, low-sugar diabetes diet.
Remember that eating one small cookie won't hurt your diabetes diet. The key is to keep the portion small and consider other options available to you, such as fresh fruit or a handful of nuts, before you reach for the cookie. But if you do choose the sugarier treat, just keep the portion reasonable, really savor it, and adjust your diet plan for the day accordingly.
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