There's no need to panic about sugar. Being informed can help you to stay calm and make decisions that are best for your health.
Sugar comes in many varieties. Some foods, such as fruit and milk, have naturally occurring sugars. Don't worry about these foods because they have many nourishing qualities that boost health. For example, fruit has antioxidants and fiber, which are good for your heart, and milk offers protein and calcium to help strengthen your muscles and bones.
Sometimes sugars are added into foods during preparation, processing or at the dining table, which may be of concern with certain health conditions or if eaten in excess. This includes the sugars that manufacturers add — maltose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener and fruit juice concentrates — as well as sugars people put in their own meals and beverages, such as raw sugar, maple syrup and honey.
Eating foods high in added sugar frequently and in large portions may increase risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, which may lead to heart disease and diabetes.
Some common foods that have added sugar are protein bars, granola bars, flavored yogurt and frozen entree meals; however, that doesn't mean you have to avoid these foods but, instead, you might consider choosing them less often. Experiment with other similar foods you might enjoy that would provide more nourishment, like trail mix with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, or plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries or unsweetened applesauce.
For a ready-made meal that is easy to prepare, buy grilled chicken strips, precooked brown rice and frozen stir-fry veggies, and flavor with spices, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or orange.
Both the American Heart Association and the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend limiting the amount of added sugar we eat. You don't have to avoid any particular food completely, or count the grams of sugar in every meal or snack. We can use moderation and mindfulness as tools to guide our eating rather than getting stuck on how many teaspoons of sugar we should or shouldn't have.
Typically, we feel much better when we take good care of our bodies. We can do this by eating a nourishing diet filled primarily with fresh foods, and listening to our satiety cue by stopping eating before we feel too full.
Focusing on eating fewer processed foods, and more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, lean proteins and whole grains is a great way to feel positive, both physically and mentally. Remember to be flexible, as trying to eat perfectly usually leads to harmful diet-induced stress.
One of my favorite reminders to clients is, when it comes to eating, our health is made up of what we do most of the time. If enjoying dessert is a small percentage of your overall nourishing diet, then don’t sweat it.
Learn more about the Sharp Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, which provides one-on-one nutrition counseling with registered dietitians at three convenient locations throughout San Diego County.
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