Welcome to the latest edition of 52 healthy habits where we tackle a new healthy habit in order to improve our lives. Why habits? Because habits are our backup plan when everything else falls apart. Habits don't require motivation or willpower. If we take the time to develop healthy habits, then a healthy lifestyle will emerge. Choose a healthy habit and work to cultivate it for a few weeks. Once it becomes second nature, work on a new habit. It's a sane and sustainable approach to living a healthy lifestyle. Each week we cover a new habit. You can follow along with my weekly habits, dig into the archives or make up one of your own.
This week we are talking about a crazy controversial topic: Sugar! The ruiner of all good health. The root of all evil. The nefarious! But wait...
I don't believe that sugar is the single culprit of all our health and weight problems. Shocking, I know. Yes, eating too many processed foods filled with sugar is bad for your health. Sugar is highly palatable and easy to overeat. Have you ever dug your spoon into a pint of Ben & Jerry's with the self-promise to stop after one serving only to have it scrape the bottom before you knew what hit you? Yeah, me too. They do that shit on purpose. Processed foods are manufactured to be easy to overeat. When you eat more than your body needs, the excess is stored as fat. It's not necessarily the sugar itself, it's the excess. The sugar just makes it easier to eat too much.
The health industry will have you believe that sugar is as addicting as cocaine! While some people have trouble controlling themselves around sugar, no doubt, moderate amounts of sugar can be part of a healthy lifestyle. I am not arguing that we don't need to limit our sugar, we do. I'm just trying to bring some balance, common sense and rational thinking to a topic that is often sensationalized.
Our bodies run on sugar. It's our brain's preferred energy source. From my friends at Precision Nutrition:
As part of my life long quest for balance and to stay away from the all-or-nothing mindset, I strive to not look at sugar as simply good or bad. It's not a choice of either eat-all-the-sugar-nom-nom-nom or never-ever have a gram of sugar ever! Most healthy people can have their sugar and eat it too. This week's healthy habit is to pay attention to food labels and limit added sugars to approximately 25 grams per day.
Some people go to the extreme and give up all sugars, including the natural sugar found in fruit and dairy. While of course you're free to do whatever feels best for your own body, cutting out fruit and dairy is not necessary for most healthy people, even those who are on a fat loss diet. Fruit provides nutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals that keep the body healthy. Of course, we don't want to overeat fruit either, three bananas in one sitting is excess, but to enjoy a piece of fruit with lunch or as a snack is always a healthy choice. Fruit generally isn't making people fat. For most people looking to lose weight, there are often other food and lifestyle choices that can be improved that will have a bigger impact on fat loss than eliminating fruit.
The sugar found in processed foods are often combined with fat and salt to make them extra delicious with little-to-no nutritional value. These are the sugars we want to limit because they are easy to overeat. We'd all do well to limit processed foods like ice cream, candy, snack cakes, pastries, soda and donuts. But we know all know that already that, right?
READING THE LABEL
Here's where it gets tricky. There is sugar in almost all packaged foods, even the healthy(er) ones. You can read the nutrition label to see how many grams of sugar per serving, but how can you tell if those sugars are natural sugars or added sugars? If it is an added sugar it will be listed in the ingredients on the back of the package, but food manufacturers know you are looking for the word 'sugar'. Here are some examples of other names for sugar that are used on packaging labels. Pro tip: If it ends in -ose it is sugar.
- Cane crystals
- Corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
Ingredients on the back of packages are listed in order of quantity. That means if sugar is the first ingredient, it has more sugar than any other ingredient in the package.
25 GRAMS OF ADDED SUGAR PER DAY
A good rule of thumb is to limit added sugars to 25 grams per day. I highlighted the word 'added' because I don't count natural sugars in this total. When I buy packaged foods like pasta sauce, yogurts (while dairy has natural sugar, most store bought flavored yogurts have a lot of added sugars) and salad dressing, I try to choose items with six grams of sugar or less per serving. It can be eye-opening to read the nutrition labels of the foods you buy. Just reading the labels, being aware of the sugar content in the foods and keeping in mind the 25 grams per day guideline, is a great habit to cultivate. Awareness is the first step.
Limiting added sugar to around 25 grams a day allows you to eat the fruit and dairy that is healthful, while having some sugar that is found in most foods, without going overboard. If you tried to cut out all sugar, there would likely be nothing left to eat. 25 grams of added sugar a day gives you a target that is realistic and sustainable. Music to my ears.
For more information on the topic of sugar and my view on artifical sweeteners check out this post I wrote called 'A rant on sugar, cocaine and artificial sweeteners.'
If you like what I have to say about nutrition you may be interested in learning more about my sane and sustainable nutrition program (no boring meal plans, strict diets, macro calculations or crazy eliminations)! A few slots still open for new clients at a reduced rate. If you're in it for the long haul and willing to put in the work for permanent changes, this may be the program for you.
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