Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Added Sugar Challenge

Added sugar.  Seems like most foods we eat have added sugar.  Last week we talked about all the added sugar in foods, especially sugar-sweetened beverages like soda pop, sweetened tea and fruit punch.  The Star Tribune ran some interesting articles about added sugar, one about readers challenged to give up on added sugar for a month.    Journalist, Erica Pearson, began noticing how many foods have added sugar.  Not just the donuts, cakes, pies, cookies that we all know have added sugar, but the salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, even chicken stock.   The Star Tribune challenged readers to take a sugar break – a bread from added sugar for 28 days.  They called it the “28-day Sugar Free Challenge” which they held in February.  Why February?  They said it was the shortest month which made the challenge somewhat easier.

Goal – cut out the added sugar in one’s diet for 28 days.  

This was to include not just the sugar you added to your morning cereal or cup of coffee but all the added sugar manufacturers add to almost every packaged food.  As I noted last week, researchers from the University of North Carolina found 68% of packaged foods have added sugar.  Thus, to really stick to this challenge one would have to cut out many, if not most, of the packaged food they eat.

Findings – how well did the Star Tribune readers do on this no added sugar challenge and what did they have to say about trying the challenge?  The Star Tribune ran a follow-up article describing lessons learned.    Not scientific evidence but anecdotal comments from some of the 3,000 people who took on the 28-day Sugar Free Challenge.  

  1.  Feel better – many said cutting out added sugar for a month just made them feel better.
  2. One person noted their mental fog had cleared. 
  3. More health savvy – even if they didn’t feel better some commentators noted they felt they knew more about what they were eating and drinking.  One reader was surprised to find added sugar in what she thought was healthy food.
  4. More fruits and veggies – to replace some of the added sugar foods, some readers found themselves eating more fruits and vegetables.  Reminds me of a student in my class who lost 15 pounds by adding 5 A DAY – five fruits and vegetables every day.  He said he didn’t have room for the all junk food he was eating. 
Pasta sauce with no added sugar
Like some of the commentators, I have no desire to give up all foods with added sugar.  But I do try to keep the added sugar foods to dessert or what I know is something to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I try to avoid a lot of added sugar packaged foods in the main part of my meal.  One commentator summed up their No Added Sugar Challenge by saying, “The challenge has made me more deliberate about what I eat.  I will go back to eating sugars.  I love a piece of dark chocolate now and then or a cookie or ice cream.  But I think that I now want to be able to decide when I consume sugar – my choice on the chocolate, not a manufacturer deciding to put it in soup.”  
Soup with added high fructose corn syrup
How many added sugar foods can you find in your diet and cut back on?  Soda would be a good place to start.  If you drink a can of soda or more a day, try to cut back.  The Mayo Clinic notes that beverages like soda and fruit drinks are two of the major sources of added sugar in our diets.  There are brands of spaghetti sauce without added sugar, soup without added sugar, crackers without added sugar. but it does take some patience to read food labels and hunt for those brands on store shelves.  Mayo Clinic recommends choosing foods with 5 grams of added sugar or less in each serving.  

Sources:   Journalist, called, researchers, lessons, saying, beverages      Image sources: Classico  , soup, sugar

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Added sugar – so much confusion

Added sugar.  We have all heard about added sugar but so many people are confused as to what foods have added sugar, how to know if a food has a lot or a little added sugar.  At the gym this week a mom was giving her toddler some Cheerios as a snack.  Good choice as Cheerios are easy to eat and very healthy.  Then the mom said she avoids the Goldfish as they are too high in sugar.  I asked, “even the whole grain Goldfish?”.  She didn’t know about that.  I came home looked up Goldfish.  The Goldfish Cheddar has 0 Sugar grams.  The ingredient list does list “sugar” but it must be an amount less than 4 calories as the label says 0 grams of sugar.  I then looked up Baked with Whole Grain Cheddar and again sugars = 0 grams.  The ingredient list has no sugar listed.  The first ingredient is Whole Wheat Flour so it is a healthy choice.  The crackers also contain real Cheddar Cheese and some heart healthy oil.  I couldn’t find a reason not to served these fun crackers to kids.
No added sugar - a healthy snack for kids
Why are people so confused about “added sugar”? 
Many people hear things like Goldfish are high in sugar but then don’t check it out.  Or, they look at the label, see “sugar” and think this means “added sugar”.  Many foods have naturally present sugar.  Milk has lactose, fruit has fructose.  Plain white milk will show “Total sugars 12 grams” but newer labels also show “added sugars 0 grams” which means no sugar has been added.  To know if a food has “added sugar” look at the nutrition label.  If it is one of the new labels it will clearly state “added sugars”.  You can also look at the ingredients.  If sugar is added, it will be listed in the ingredients.  But it may not just say “sugar” as sugar includes high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, sucrose, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey.    If one of these “sugars” is the first or second ingredient, it means the food contains a lot of added sugar. 
Look for Added Sugars on Food Labels
How much “added sugar” should we have in our diets?
One of the Key Recommendations of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is “Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars”.  It doesn’t say no added sugar, but to limit the amount of added sugar foods we eat.  It also doesn’t say to cut back on fruit or milk with naturally present “sugar”.  Or, you can go by how many teaspoons of added sugar you can have a day.  The American Heart Association recommends we limit our “added sugar” to 9 teaspoons a day (150 calories) for men and 6 teaspoons a day (100 calories) for women.   Have that one can of 12 ounce sugared soda and you have added 8 teaspoons of added sugar to your day, about 130 calories and zero nutritional value.  On average, Americans consume 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day – well over the recommended amount. 

What foods have “added sugar”?,
Most of the foods we buy have some sugar added.  A study from the University of North Carolina found that 68% of US foods and beverages we purchase contain sweeteners with calories and about 2% of the food had low-calorie sweeteners.  Sugar-sweetened beverages – the soda (pop), fruit punches, fruit drinks, energy drinks, lemonade, sweetened ice tea are high in added sugars.  Other commonly eaten foods with added sugar include:  candy, cakes, pies, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, syrup on pancakes, sugared cereals, sugared waffles, cinnamon toast, peanut butter and even catsup and spaghetti sauce.  Many of us eat our daily supply of added sugars in our meals or beverages even before we get to eating the dessert, we know has added sugar in it. 
Soda - a sugar-sweetened beverage
Why the concern about “added sugar”?
When we eat foods with naturally present sugar like a banana, there isn’t a sugar rush.  The fiber in the banana slows the rate we absorb the fructose in the banana.  We also get a lot of healthy nutrients from the banana.  Drink a sugar sweetened beverage and the sugar is absorbed rapidly.  Harvard notes when we eat too much added sugar it has an impact on our risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Also, it has an impact on our heart health.  A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found a relationship between consumption of added sugar and heart disease.   Dr. Hu, a coauthor has stated, “Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease”. 

So, the mother at the gym was right to think about added sugar in her toddler’s food.  But she didn’t understand how to figure out what foods have and don’t have a lot of added sugar.  No need to give up the Goldfish, but the sugar-sweetened beverages, the fruit punch, and other foods high is added sugars are worth watching.  I like desserts and have no intention of giving up all the added sugar in my diet, although I do watch how much added sugar I eat each day.  Interesting to note, there are people who have taken the 28-Day Sugar-Free Challenge.  Next week we will look at people who have gone on this challenge, why they did so and what their experiences were.  
Foods with added sugar

Sunday, March 17, 2019

How moms can reduce their kids' risk of obesity

Look around and you will see so many kids who are overweight.  Often these kids also have parents who are overweight.  CDC reports that childhood obesity in the USA has become a very serious problem.  Being overweight puts adults and children at risk for poor health.  How many kids in the US are obese?

For kids ages 2-19 years of age:
  • 18.5% are obese which equates to 13.7 million obese kids in the USA
  • 13.9 % of kids ages 2-5 are obese
  • 18.4% of 6-11-year olds are obese
  • And 1 out of 5 or 20.6% of 12-19-year olds are obese

Moms (and Dads) play an important role in helping prevent obesity in their kids.  Medical Press has a good article discussing 5 healthy habits of Moms that can reduce obesity risk in their kids.  The article published by the journal BMJ discusses research about 17,000 female nurses and their 24,289 kids and looked at five healthy habits of the moms.  These 5 healthy habits lowered their kids risk of being overweight by 75%.  

5 Healthy Habits for Moms
  1. Exercise Regularly – the moms who walked instead of sitting on the couch were less likely to have obese kids.  Moms who exercised about 2.5 hours per week had kids who were 21% less likely to become obese as teenagers.  Moms who sat more and exercised less were more likely to have kids who were obese as teenagers.  Not really a surprising finding.
  2. Alcohol consumption – the researchers didn’t have study participants who were heavy drinkers (after all they did study health professionals) but they did find moms who were moderate drinkers.  Those who had 1-7 drinks a week had kids with a 11-20% lower risk of obesity.  They found that kids of moms who were moderate drinkers had lower risk of obesity than teetotalers. 
  3. Eating habits – surprisingly, kids of moms who had the best eating habits were not really less likely to be obese.  This finding was a surprise to the researchers.  They thought this was because so many kids are eating school meals – some eat school breakfast and school lunch and the influence of other kids and eating outside the home such as at a neighbor’s house.  Moms can be more of an influence on their kids eating habits by having their kids skip the School breakfast and School lunch and preparing breakfast at home and packing a healthy MyPlate lunch for their kids.  The kids can bring their lunch to school and buy real milk at school.  (Kids should have real milk with meals. Save the water or 110% juice for snack time.)
    Help kids choose healthy snacks
  4. Maintaining a healthy weight – The University of San Francisco notes:  “A child with one obese parent has a 50% chance of being obese.  When both parents are obese, their children have an 80% chance of obesity.”  
  5. Not smoking – Kids of moms who didn’t smoke were 31% less likely to be obese.    

 What can moms, parents do to reduce the chances of having overweight or obese kids?

1.       Move more, sit less – I like how Dr. Sears in “The Healthiest Kid in The Neighborhood” recommends kids earn their TV or “screen” time by playing outside first.  Dr. Sears recommends a house rule:  “Time Sitting = Time Moving”.  Parents can encourage schools and day care centers to have more recess and more gym classes at school.  A shout out to Martha Roby a former middle school principal.  She developed a program in her middle school that had teachers reward well-behaved students with a lunch ticket to eat outside (weather permitting).  She set aside an area on the school grounds and had picnic tables installed and a basket hoop.  The middle schoolers loved getting this reward and it promoted physical activity as the students played some basketball or walked around after they ate. 

2.       5 A DayUCSF notes that  “almost 80% of young people don’t eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables”.  Not really surprising.  When students in my nutrition class track what they eat, very few report eating 5 A Day.  Parents who have their kids eat breakfast can ensure some fruit at breakfast.  Parents who pack their kids’ lunch can include a fruit and a veggie in that lunch. 
3.       Healthy Eating:  Follow Dear Abby’s advice:  “Healthy eating is the basis of healthy living”.  I couldn’t agree more. Very good advice for March which is National Nutrition Month. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Nutrition in the News: Exercise and Enjoy that Dessert

Nutrition in the news talks about how exercising can help you eat a healthier diet and maybe you should enjoy that dessert and not skip it.  March is National Nutrition Month so learning more about nutrition and good health is a key focus this month.  Time has some interesting articles discussing food this month.  

      1.   Exercising Might Help You Make Healthier Food Choices a recent study has found.  How does increasing your exercise help you eat better?   A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that those who exercised on a regular basis ate healthier.  Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin studied 2,680 adults who were not exercising or on a diet.  After starting an exercise program, the study participants started to eat healthier.   They chose lean meats, ate more fruits and vegetables and cut back on fried foods.  They also cut back on the sugared sodas.  What is a surprise is that none of these participants were instructed or asked to change their diet.  The researchers surmised that exercise reduces one’s preference for fatty foods liked fried foods.  Although the study participants were young adults (ages 18-35), the researchers believe the exercise and healthier eating relationship would apply to all adults. 
a.       How much exercise?  The study participants were pretty sedentary before the research began.  They then added 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week to their schedule.  They did this for 15 weeks. 
b.       Exercise and healthier eating:  Interesting that only after a few weeks study participants chose on their own to eat healthier diets.  As noted previously, they chose more fruits, vegetables, lean meats and also nuts over fried foods and sodas.  And chose to do so without any intervention by the researchers or suggestions about their diet.  
Exercise and eat healthier
2. Eating Dessert for good health?  How can eating dessert be related to being good for you?  Almost everyone who goes on a diet knows they should shun desserts.  Or anyone that wants to eat healthier believes you have to give up desserts.  Not me.  I like desserts and have no intention of giving them up.  So, I especially found it interesting that some research shows eating desserts can actually have some positive consequences.
a.       How can eating a dessert help your diet?  We aren’t talking about pie a` la mode every day.  Researchers have found that enjoying the occasional indulgence may help you eat healthier.  How can that be?  Choosing the dessert first and then choosing your main course foods seems to actually lead one to choose healthier foods and eating less at their meal.  Odd, but that is what some researchers found.
b.       Choose dessert first – once in a while – not an everyday choice but once in awhile go for the indulgent dessert.  And you don’t have to eat the dessert first, just knowing you can enjoy this delicious dessert after your meal seems to be enough for some people to eat less at the meal as they are “saving room for the dessert”. 
c.       Choosing healthy foods first and later choosing a dessert – again it seems odd but those in the study who chose their healthy menu options first felt that they had “sacrificed” enough and then treated themselves to a calorie-laden dessert and eating more than those who chose the dessert first.
d.       How did this research study work?  Researchers followed 134 students and faculty and staff as they ate in the school’s cafeteria.  These participants were offered desserts before the food line – a healthy one or cheesecake or two dessert choices after the food line, fruit or cheesecake.   The majority of those who choose the cheesecake first before going through the food line, chose a healthier meal.  They ended up actually eating 250 calories less than those who chose fruit first as their dessert. 
Maybe those who indulge occasionally with their dessert have less junk food cravings.  Could be true as so many people say, “I ate the cookie and ruined my diet.”  But learning how to eat an occasional indulgent dessert or modest dessert like some cookies shouldn’t “ruin your diet”.   The dietitian in the article doesn’t recommend desserts even every day and certainly not at every meal.  Well, not me.  I like some candy, cookies, or some type of dessert every day.  It isn’t hundreds of calories like many restaurant desserts, but a dessert nonetheless.  Small indulgences like a few pieces of chocolate or a couple of cookies aren’t going to ruin my overall healthy diet. 

I like how the article ended, “When you do decide to treat yourself, a growing body of research suggests that doing so strategically can pay off.”  
Pillsbury Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
 Sources:  study, participants, Researchers, article  Images: Buffet, exercise   Pillsbury cookie recipe 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Add some whole grain snacks to your day

What are some easy ways to add some whole grains to your day especially in March as March is National Nutrition Month?  When I told my husband that March was National Nutrition Month, he said, “I plan to celebrate by having an extra banana and carrot.”   Very funny.  But he did suggest healthy choices.  You can also celebrate National Nutrition Month by adding some whole grains to your diet.  What are some health benefits of whole grains?  Do you have to give up chips to have healthier snacks?   I like chips and snacks and it isn’t hard to make some healthier choices.   

1. Why are whole grains so good for our health?The Mayo Clinic writes, “Why whole grains are the healthier choice”.  They state if you want to eat healthier, you need to add some whole grains to your day.  A dietitian at the Mayo Clinic notes, “The healthiest bread option is something made with whole grains.  It needs to say whole grain.” 
  • Heart Health – eating whole grains can lower LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol linked to heart disease.  2-3 servings a day can lower heart disease risk
  • Type 2 Diabetes – eating 2 or more servings of whole grains a day may reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.  Why?  The fiber, phytochemicals and many nutrients in whole grains help slow the absorption of whole grain foods and helps glucose metabolism. 
  • Cancer – some studies are showing that eating whole grains may reduce one’s risk for some cancers such as colon cancer.  

       2.  What about popcorn?  Is it a healthy snack?  Popcorn is whole grain and a very healthy snack choice.  Not so healthy when you buy the movie popcorn loaded with salt and the fake “butter”.  Popcorn is loaded with fiber and those healthy antioxidants.  SkinnyPop is a healthy way to enjoy popcorn as a snack.  My daughter likes the new Popcorn mini cakes, Cinnamon & Sugar flavor.  Yes, some added sugar but only 12 calories from sugar so a tasty treat.  Try some Popcorn mini cakes as a healthy after school snack for kids. 
Cinnamon Mini Cakes 
3.  What about chips?  Are any chips healthy? 
I like chips and have some almost every day for lunch.  But healthy chips and not those highly processed snacks that turn your fingers orange.   Sunchips are a great choice.  100% whole grain and made with heart healthy oils.  I like the original flavor but any of their flavors are a healthy choice.  Food Should Taste Good has delicious multigrain Tortilla Chips.  I like to bring a bag to class to share with my students as these are tasty, yet healthy chips.  They can be expensive so we buy them when they are on sale at Costco.  Tostitos has a multigrain chip, multigrain scoops,  that isn’t 100% whole grain but does have some whole grain like brown rice and buckwheat flour and some fiber.  Late July makes some organic multigrain chips that are whole grain and made with sea salt.  (Try buying Late July at Giant or Walmart.)    

 4.  How to add more whole grains to your day

a.       Choose whole grain English Muffins over enriched, white English Muffins
b.       Choose the low-fat bran muffin
c.       In recipes, try using rolled oats or crushed bran cereal in place of dried bread crumbs. 
d.       Choose a whole grain breakfast cereal like any General Mills' cereal or shredded wheat or one of the best for your health, oatmeal.

So, celebrate National Nutrition Month.  Yes, you can add the carrot or banana like my husband, but you can also try adding some whole grains to your day.