August 26, 2009

Sugar Gets a Beat Down

Anybody remember this Sesame Street bit on sugar beets? You know,"beet, beet, sugar beet, sugar beet beeeeeet." That's literally the whole song. It was one of my favorite segments back then, not only because I loved mixing cups upon cups of sugar into pitchers of Kool-Aid, but also because it just seemed so wholesome. The little kid pulling up the plant, the tractor, the dirt. And the mustached guy at the end, priceless! But I get the feeling that's not exactly how most sugar is made these days, or even back then.

Yesterday the American Heart Association released new guidelines on recommended daily added sugar intake, and they're surprisingly low. For an organization that has long toted saturated fat and cholesterol as the main culprits of heart disease, and even endorsed sugary foods, it's an interesting development. Basically they recommend less than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 37.5 grams for men. A can of Mountain Dew has 46 grams if that gives you any point of reference.

I don't even drink soda and my regular sugar intake is still over their daily recommendation. Considering how often guidelines like this change and the kind of science they've been based on in the past, I'm probably not going to strictly abide by the AHA's recommendation every single day. But I do think it's an interesting health challenge to see where I can cut sugar from my diet and how much I really miss it. It's one of the few food components that we truly don't need in our diets (if that tells you anything about it's nutritional value) and historically we haven't consumed all that much of it (I picture Laura Ingalls Wilder getting a special treat of an orange once a year on Christmas.)

I decided to start with breakfast - almost every day I have coffee with half and half and about two teaspoons of sugar, along with Greek yogurt with at the very least (although probably more...) two tablespoons of honey.

I started skipping the sweetener in my coffee altogether. Equal and Splenda totally ruin the taste of coffee for me, and it turns out that just sticking with cream isn't so bad. The coffee even tastes...creamier, what can I say. Yogurt is a different story. I love me some yogurt. I switched to Greek yogurt when I realized its breakfast-approved resemblance to frozen yogurt products like Red Mango, but it's very sour on it's own. I like that it has fewer sweeteners and artificial ingredients than most yogurts, but it's a bit pucker inducing straight up. So I've been adding half a cup of frozen blueberries (about 8 grams of natural sugar) and I'll see what other fruits or nuts I can try.

Believe it or not, that's actually 38 grams of added sugar gone right there! Hopefully that will give me enough wiggle room for the occasional fro-yo or strudel since I generally like savory foods for the rest of my meals. I haven't really missed my breakfast sugar yet, and assuming it's not psychological, I even feel a little more energetic throughout the day.

I can't help but wonder whether it's a coincidence that these recommendations were announced just a few days after processed food manufacturers urged the Department of Agriculture to raise the quota on imported sugar, lest we virtually run out of the stuff. Who knows, but I find it hilariously ironic that perhaps we don't need all that added sugar after all, so take that you processed food manufacturers, you. And speaking of things that are hilarious, I leave you with this clip of food writer and nutritionist Marion Nestle discussing the sugar "crisis" on The Colbert Report:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sugar Shortage - Marion Nestle
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

The American Heart Association's guidelines
"Food Firms Warn of Sugar Shortage"
Wall Street Journal 8/13/09
Marion Nestle expands on her Colbert appearance
"Stop eating so much sugar, American Heart Assn. says" LA Times 8/25/09

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