It’s Friday—time to stop at the bakery for a few things. Other than stocking up on some whole grain rolls and pitas, I look around for something to bring home as an extra dessert for the company we are having this Shabbat. I see an entire section of “no-sugar” products, but I also see shelf after shelf of baked goods, sugar or not, filled with trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oil.
So no sugar, but something much, much worse. Sugar seems to get a bad rap. How bad is sugar for you in comparison to other evils in food? It really so terrible for you?
Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. The world produced about 168 million tons of sugar in 2011. The average person consumes about 24 kilograms (53 lbs.) of sugar each year (33.1 kg in industrialized countries), equivalent to over 260 food calories per person, per day.
We’ve been talking about processed sugars. Unprocessed sugar, of course, occurs naturally in any food called a carbohydrate, including fruits, grains, and vegetables. However the amount of sugars in each type of food varies greatly. For instance, a serving of watermelon has 10 grams of sugar while a slice of whole grain bread can have a gram or less.
Refined sugar is different. Refined sugar is made from raw sugar that has undergone a refining process to remove the molasses. Raw sugar is a sucrose which is synthesized from sugar cane or sugar beet and cannot immediately be consumed before going through the refining process to produce refined sugar or white sugar. The average American today consumes about 62 kilograms or over 136 pounds of sugar per year. That is the equivalent of 209,440 calories a year, or 60 pounds (27 kilograms).
But this begs the question; is it sugar itself that is the culprit or is the amounts and concentrations in which we consume the white powdery stuff that is a large contributing factor to our current obesity epidemic and the resulting health emergency we now face because of it?
There are many weight loss groups and programs that require total abstinence from sugar as part of their weight regimen. And for some individuals, this might work in the long term, but for most, it isn’t the solution. If one is truly addicted to any food, in this case sugar, it is best to stay away from that food, but learning how to eat properly and keep your sugars in check, without eliminating them completely is usually a better way to go. Sugar itself is usually NOT the problem, but the amount of it that we are consuming certainly is.
In a discussion about sugar with one of our staff dietitians, Jennifer Racz M.S. pointed out that sugar has really always been around. And processed sugar has been with us for at least 200 years. Yet the problems of obesity have only really starting manifesting themselves over the past 40 years or so ago. What changed?
Obviously the amounts! When you are walking down the aisles of the supermarket, take a look at the ingredients of such foods as canned fruits, puddings, snack cakes and cookies and cake mixes. Certain granola and cereal bars might sound healthy to you but they are packed in sugars. Instant oatmeal, breakfast cereals can also have high concentrations. Have you checked your jarred tomato, marinara and pizza sauces lately? Even your barbecue sauce or yogurt can be loaded.
When you are looking for the amount of sugar in a product, beware. The best thing to do is check the nutrition information and see how many grams of sugar are in the product. If you are looking at the ingredients, you might not even find the word “sugar” in a high sugar product. But you might see ingredients like:
|• Beet Sugar
• Brown Rice Syrup
• Brown Sugar
• Cane Crystals (or, even better, “cane juice crystals”)
• Cane Sugar
• Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
• Dehydrated Cane Juice
• Evaporated Cane Juice
• Fruit juice concentrate
|• High-fructose corn syrup
• Invert sugar
• Maple syrup
• Palm Sugar
• Raw sugar
For most of us, eating some sugar as part of our daily diet won’t cause a lot of harm. But keeping the overall amounts in check is very important. There is a difference in the long run between putting a half teaspoon of sugar in your coffee or tea or 2 teaspoons every time. Obviously, stay away from pre-packaged processed foods as much as possible. When you cook or bake yourself, you can use far less sugar than something you might buy at the bakery. And yes, honey also has a good amount of calories. It may be slightly healthier in how it breaks down, but it is more calories per teaspoon than sugar.
Sugar may be one of the factors in the fattening of western civilization, but it is far from the lone culprit in our ever declining public health. Someone I know well constantly brags about his being off of sugar for many years. But he was still very overweight. Only when he came into my program (he had been off sugar about 10 years or so) did he actually lose weight. He gained awareness of his overall calories and expended more through exercise and activity.
We are always looking for the one culprit. Sugar is in no way a healthy food. It is what we refer to as “empty calories”, meaning there is no meaningful nutrition associated with it. We need to look at the bigger picture, and that is a lot bigger than just cutting out sugar. A little bit of sugar every so often to sweeten bitter foods is really okay, but the problem with the overconsumption of sugar can definitely harm your health. Keeping sugar to a minimum in our diet will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com Check out the his web site –www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.