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Put the clamps on 'added' sugar consumption

Published April 21. 2012 09:01AM

On more than one occasion, I've argued that the key to health and fitness is awareness, the realization or knowledge of an occurrence or situation. But sometimes, awareness is just not enough.

Most of us, for instance, are aware that the government is horribly in debt, but when you hear the figure is $15.5 trillion (the sum as of early March but it's increasing daily) do you really comprehend that?

Probably not. Not until you or somebody else puts that number in relation to other ones to provide perspective. Only when you hear that every man, woman, and child would have to pay just shy of $50,000 or that every current taxpayer would have to pay nearly $137,000 to have the country break even, do you come to grips with the enormity of the deficit.

Providing these numbers puts the problem in perspective.

Since Americans have been aware for years that the linchpin to many of the major health problems in the U.S. is excessive sugar consumption, yet no substantive change has come from this knowledge, this is another situation where awareness is just not enough. Today's column provides perspective on the pervasiveness of this problem in the hope that it will goad you into reducing the amount of sugar you ingest.

In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information gathered in the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that showed the average boy in junior or senior high school consumed 442 calories of added sugar per day from 2005 to 2008.

Notice the adjective modifying sugar: added.

According to the CDC's definition added sugars "include all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods, such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table." This means many kids are averaging far more total sugar ingested per day because many good-for-you foods have significant amounts of sugar.

Have an average teenage boy also consume two glasses of skim milk, a glass of orange juice, a medium banana, and a cup of plain yogurt daily, for example, and the total amount of all sugars ingested jumps to more than 750 calories five times the amount the American Heart Association suggests that adult males should consume in a day.

While junior and senior high females only averaged 314 calories of added sugars per day, this is primarily because their total daily caloric intake was lower. By total percentage of calories, there's little difference between the sexes.

Junior and senior high males ingest 17.5 percent of their total calories from added sugars while females ingest 16.6 percent, a difference of less than 1 percent.

These CDC figures are remarkably consistent with 2010 research by Datamonitor that determined that adult American get an average of 17.1 percent of their daily total calories from sugar, a staggering 38 percent increase from only 32 years ago.

Using the Datamonitor figure, an American consuming 2,500 calories a day (about what a fairly active 175 pounder would need to maintain that weight), 428 calories a day would come from added sugars (not total sugars!), or just about 3,000 calories per week. More recently, Rachel Johnson, PhD, MPH, RD and new chairhead of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, put the figure at 475 per day, or 3,325 cals per week.

Now to gain some perspective on these numbers, consider the salad I eat with every supper. It fills one of those super-sized wooden salad bowls designed to hold the salad served to a family and weighs nearly a half pound before I add the sugar-free and calorie-free salad dressing. When I go shopping for the week, I buy one large (about 350-grams) onion, 2 dry pints of grape or cherry tomatoes (about 560 grams), one 9-ounce bag of spinach, and four large heads of red leaf lettuce (about 1400 grams).

(I buy these items when I purchase my week's worth of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, and on more than one occasion my cart full of veggies has caused other customers to ask me if I own a restaurant.)

These supper time salads provide a ton of phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins, as well as a fair amount of fiber. Best of all is that the total amount of calories for the entire week's worth of salads is 525, about six times less than the week's worth of added sugars the average American ingests.

And since the Minnesota Heart Survey, a tally of sugar intake and body weight over 27 years of adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, has shown a direct correlation between added sugar ingestion and weight gain, and weight gain triggers so many of the major maladies afflicting Americans such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes it would be wise to assess just how much added sugar sneaks into your diet through processed foods and create a strategy to replace some (or preferably most) of it with natural foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

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