OK, yesterday I left off with an explanation of why eating an oatmeal cookie containing sugar affects your body in a different way than munching on a treat like licorice that lacks fiber, protein and fat. But it’s also important to keep in mind that not all sugars are created equal.
In a nutshell, there are two kinds of sugar in food: natural and added. Natural sugar was put there by Mother Nature, like the sugar in fruit (called fructose) and skim milk (called lactose). Even the strictest guidelines don’t recommend avoiding natural sugar, because it’s “bundled” with important nutrients, like fiber, antioxidants and protein.
Added sugar on the other hand has been put in by the food manufacturer, or by you at home, like the granulated sugar in sweet tea. The World Health Organization recommends capping added sugar at 10% of your total calories. That’s about 40 grams per day for most adult women, the equivalent of 10 level teaspoons of table sugar, and the American Heart Association says we should limit added sugar to 25 grams a day for women and 37.5 grams for men.
Unfortunately, when you look at the grams of sugar on a Nutrition Facts label, the number doesn’t break down how many of those grams come from natural vs. added. The only clear way to tell if a food contains added sugar is to read the ingredient list. Added sugar will be listed as: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, sucrose, sugar and syrup. If you see one or more of these terms, especially within the first few ingredients, most of what you’re getting is the added kind.
Bottom line: Don’t skip out on whole, unprocessed foods that contain naturally occurring sugar like fruit or carrots, and balance them out by combining them with fiber, protein and fat, like grapes with almonds or carrots with hummus.
For foods with added sugar like baked goods, ice cream and candy, if you can’t live without them, choose all natural versions to avoid artificial additives, make them “once in a while” treats (a few times a week at most) and cap your serving at a few hundred calories (one regular sized cupcake is 200-250 calories, a half cup of premium ice cream is 250-300, and one oatmeal cookie from a bakery contains 150-200).
I’ve always had more of a salt tooth than a sweet tooth, and I do find that avoided foods that contain added sugar on a daily basis drastically cuts my desire for sweet stuff, but every once in a while I need a sugar fix. When a craving strikes, my three favorite go-to treats include:
- 1 tsp each coconut butter (if you haven’t tried coconut butter, I highly recommend it – it’s heavenly) and almond butter, mixed with 1 Tbsp dark chocolate chunks (I mix then together and eat it with a small spoon) - 200 calories
- A few Tbsp of dark chocolate chunks, melted and drizzled over a half cup raspberries (fresh or frozen, thawed) with 1 Tbsp sliced almonds – 175 calories
- A half cup coconut milk ice cream (I love Luna & Larry Organic Coconut Bliss, naked flavor) topped with one cup sliced strawberries – 255 calories
Because these are each made with high quality ingredients and combine a smaller amount of sugar with fiber, protein and healthy fat, I find that a small portion is all I need to feel satisfied.
So, what’s your take on sugar? Do you avoid it altogether? Do you have a hard time limiting treats to a few times a week or a few hundred calories? If you restrict foods with added sugar, do you rebound overeat or does avoiding sugar help you get cravings under control? Please share!