Take the Sugar Challenge!
Sugar! An ancient, delectable, sweet sensation that unless consumed in moderation, puts you at serious risk for critical diseases, even death (American Heart Association AHA). In fact, the CDC is launching an extensive campaign to address obesity, a leading health risk in this nation often caused by excessive sugar consumption. So, if asked how many grams of sugar do you consume on a daily basis, what do you think your answer would be?
Recently, I asked myself this same question and discovered my healthy, low carb lifestyle far exceeded the recommended amount of sugar! For 5 days I tracked my sugar intake and to my chagrin, I consumed double the recommended daily allowance. Food manufacturers have a sneaky way of inserting sugar, or forms of sugar into many foods and drinks. In fact, until I started reading labels, the foods and snacks I assumed to be healthy, such as high protein health bars, were actually sugar bombs in disguise! One of the goals of the US Dept. of Human Services, Healthy People 2030 Objective, is educating and empowering people to take responsibility for nutrition by encouraging us to read food labels and know exactly what we are eating. Then, according to the CDC, by lowering our sugar consumption, we can reduce health risks such as: weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease. Not only reduce the risk but feel better and create a positive effect towards our overall health and well-being.
So, how much is the right amount of sugar?
According to the AHA the recommended allowance of sugar for women is 25 grams (6 teaspoons), approximately 100 calories. Men are allowed 36 grams, (9 teaspoons), 150 calories. However, according to the CDC, the American male is consuming an average of 19 teaspoons of sugar, and women an average of 15 teaspoons.
It’s important to note, that our bodies require some amounts of sugar. Sugarscience states, “sugar metabolism is the process by which energy contained in the foods that we eat is made available as fuel for the body.” Our body requires a little sugar to create energy and function properly but most of us are consuming far greater than what’s needed.
I discovered where my excess sugar came from by food journaling. For 5 days, after each meal and snack, I kept track of all the sugar grams I consumed. I found journaling to be the most effective way for getting a clear picture of not just how much but which foods and drinks contained the highest amount of sugar.
I found using a nutrition macro counting app to be the most effective way to keep track of the sugar grams. I like the Lose It app but the Fitbit and FitnessPal apps are other user friendly options. These apps use a barcode scanner to accurately scan barcodes on food and nutrition labels, recording the total sugar count including the added sugars. You can also use a pen and paper to keep record. Look at total sugar and added sugar on nutrition labels then keep a ledger of total sugar grams after each meal, snack or drink. If you’re eating whole foods, like meat or fresh vegetables, google “sugar grams in….” to get approximate counts. The wonderful news is by mid 2021, according to AMA, food manufacturers have to report all the “added” sugars on nutrition labels. In the past, one had to keep a nutrition translator book handy in order to decipher the sneaky sugar additives not necessarily labeled as sugar.
The high sugar culprit in my diet was my tea latte that had no added syrups or flavors but still contained 37 grams of sugar. Most popular coffee shop tea lattes, either chai or green tea, contain on average 35 grams of sugar. This is 10 grams higher than the total daily allowance for women! However, my tea latte was a favorite afternoon ritual! I loved the tea, the texture of the frothy milk, not to mention the friendly smile of the barista. So, to get to zero grams of sugar, instead of asking for a “chai tea latte”, I asked for the brewed chai tea (loose chai tea with hot water), with steamed almond milk (my frothy foam), all served by my favorite barista! Essentially, I still enjoy my favorite tea latte but now with zero sugar. It also costs $3 less than the sugary alternative, so I’m saving money as well! This Sugar Challenge is not about giving up simple pleasures or making drastic lifestyle changes, but rather to get creative. If soda is high on your list, can a can of bubbly water with fruit flavor and 0 grams of sugar be the solution you’re looking for? However, I suggest not switching to “diet” versions of soda or using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.
According to Dr Ludwig in an article, “Sugar free but at what cost”, from Harvard Medical School; “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup”. Reports also in this HMS study share, the artificial sweeteners themselves can also be addictive. Initially, it may take a little time to find and make the adjustments needed but stick with it, because the benefits of lowering your sugar count can have great rewards including feeling like you’re back in control.
Feeling in control again can be very empowering. You have the power to decide if you do or don’t want to eat those sugar grams. On holidays or certain days when you want to enjoy wine or beer, you can bank sugar grams. For example, only consume 15-20 grams for 5 days, banking 5 grams each day to create a 25 gram excess which you can use on those special days or holidays.
So, are you ready for the Sugar Challenge? It can be quite the discovery especially if you consider your lifestyle to be reasonably healthy. Perhaps you’re wanting to make a lifestyle change and not sure where to start? Taking the Sugar Challenge could be a great first step for making those small adjustments but having a large impact on your health and wellbeing. So, pick your app or get your pen and paper but starting counting those sugar grams to find out if your within the daily recommended allowance for sugar. As the CDC states, by lowering our sugar consumption, we can reduce health risks such as: weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease. I can’t wait to hear about your Sugar Challenge and what you discover. Make sure to leave a comment and let me know as love to hear from you!
By Helen Cameron-Zenobian
T.V Host, Nutrition Expert, Health Coach, Writer, Model
Studying for M.A Integrative Health & Wellness Coaching.