With summer fading into our rear view mirrors and just a few weeks left until Thanksgiving pies and treats — not to mention, Halloween candies — it’s the perfect time to evaluate your sugar intake and get it in check.
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I work hard with my clients to help them to understand nutrition labels, and to encourage them to investigate what’s hidden in the products they enjoy. Modern food products are manipulated in so many ways, but the one place where things are spelled out for you is on the labels.
It can be overwhelming to examine and track too many numbers at once, so I often encourage short, seven-day periods where we focus on one line of the nutrition label at a time. For this challenge, I want to begin with perhaps the most controversial, insidious and dangerous line of all — sugar.
How Much Sugar Are You Really Eating?
The recommended daily intake for the average person is just 25 grams of added sugar a day. That works out to be just 100 calories. The average person, however, consumes more like 75 to 100 grams of added sugar a day. All that extra sugar provides no nutritional value whatsoever, and can in fact lead to obesity, Type II Diabetes and heart disease.
Before the season changes, I challenge you to embark on a seven-day experiment. I want you to track your added sugar intake (that is, any sugar that doesn’t come from whole foods like fruit, tomatoes or yams), and try to keep it under 25 grams.
Added sugars can be found in anything, from packaged foods, jarred sauces, canned soups, baked goods, table sugars, soda and sports drinks. Don’t just look for the word “sugar” either, as sugar comes in a variety of fancy forms and names, all of which count as sugar.
Again, foods that have sugar naturally occurring in them, like fruits, do not count for this challenge.
And be aware of foods that are labelled “low-fat” or “diet” foods. They often have been injected with extra sugar to make up for the lack of fat.
My clients are usually blown away by the amount of sugar they find hidden in the foods they never thought they would find sugar in. For instance, most breads and pasta sauces, BBQ sauces, ketchup, flavored yogurts, instant flavored oatmeal, protein bars and dried fruits are hidden sugar bombs. Just 2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce and a teaspoon or two of sugar in coffee has you over your daily allotment.
I like the seven-day period because it is not impossibly long, but will get you through an entire work week and a weekend to see exactly where the sugar creeps in. A couple of glasses of wine on the weekend will push you right over that limit, so watch out.
- Pick a day to begin a seven-day period.
- Declare to friends and family on social media that you are doing the sugar challenge and invite them to join. Having support always helps.
- Download a calorie tracking app like Lose it! or My Fitness Pal for ease of tracking and looking up amounts of added sugars in foods. You can also easily google foods to find out how much sugar is in them or search out nutrition labels online.
- Keep track in a notebook, the notes section on your phone or your calorie tracking app and stay at or below 25 grams of sugar for seven days.
- Track your mood and energy levels throughout the week. Don’t be surprised if you have a little sugar withdrawal in those first few days and feel a little crabby.
At the end of the seven-day period, you may notice that you’re thinking clearer and have more energy — best of all, you might not crave sweet treats like you used to.
Look back at your journal entries and see how you feel. You may want to keep up the challenge for another week… then the full month. Who knows? You might even kick your sugar habit for good.