Think your sugar intake is under control? It’s likely not, if you’re drinking frappuccinos or eating anything from ketchup, which is one-third sugar, to cold cuts. Statistics Canada pegs our sugar intake at more than double the recommended limit. And while you shouldn’t avoid healthy foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruits and vegetables, many of us are loading up on refined sugars and empty calories, totally devoid of vitamins and minerals. Our sugar highs are contributing to obesity, tooth decay and the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Not to mention that refined sugar wreaks havoc on our appetites – and our waistlines – by causing our blood-sugar levels to rise and fall rapidly, making us hungrier and more prone to binges.
Clue in to the culprits
Even if you steer clear of sprinkles and frosting, sugar lurks in some unexpected places. Once you start looking, “the number of grams of sugar in products can be surprising,” says the Winnipeg-based dietitian Gina Sunderland, who outs canned tomato sauce, baked beans, packaged soup and salad dressing, and even cough syrup. She advises comparing the nutritional labels of different brands before you buy and seeking out no-sugar-added versions of your favourite products. And don’t be fooled into thinking that a fat-free diet is also a sugar-free one. “It’s one of the biggest myths,” confirms Sunderland. Take a one-serving container of fat-free yogourt, for instance: It can contain as much as 14 grams of sugar, about the amount in a cup of pop.
Know your “-ose”
Sugar has many aliases: fructose, sucrose, dextrose, glucose and maltose, not to mention corn syrup, a combo of fructose and glucose. And although a few packaged foods are sweetened with the natural stuff, such as applesauce and honey, most contain refined sugar in disguise. “If the first three or four ingredients on a food label end in ‘-ose,’ you can count on a high sugar content,” says Sunderland. Zero-cal artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and xylitol, aren’t a healthy alternative: They flummox your metabolism, which
could make you fatter, one study found.
Kill the buzz
Researchers have proven that sugar is addictive: A Princeton University study found that eating sugar triggers the brain’s pleasure receptors and that rats on a high-sugar diet showed signs of withdrawal, such as anxiety, after only a short time without the sweetener. The only way to lower your sugar intake is to change your habits. Instead of going cold turkey, try adding club soda to fruit juice or combining plain yogourt with your favourite fruit yogourt for a not-so-sweet treat, suggests Kim Arrey, a dietitian in Montreal. Even the sugar in your coffee or tea counts, so try cutting it in half. It might take time to train your palate, but your body will thank you for making the switch.