March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to address the biggest dietary health threat facing America: sugar. Although for years we believed that fat was the leading cause of obesity and resulting health problems, it turns out that we have been the victim of a 50-year conspiracy by the sugar industry, who even manipulated a key research initiative in 1971 to avoid looking at the role of sugar in causing cavities.
The campaign was very effective. As we were looking at other potential causes of health problems, sugar has made its way into everything, and Americans eat far more sugar than they realize. So how do manage to take control of our diets and cut sugar? The answer may be easier than you think, according to a new Smarter Living Guide published by the New York Times. Here are some of the insights from the article.
Cut Added Sugars
There are two kinds of sugars that are found in foods: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars, write the authors, are not a major concern. It is very hard to overeat naturally occurring sugars. They are not concentrated enough to be problematic, and they come along with many important nutrients such as protein and vitamins. The sugars also come with fiber that encourages us to feel full.
Added sugars, on the other hand, can be dangerous because they can exist in higher concentrations and can be in all foods, including those that would not normally have sugar. These sugars may come in many forms, like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and more. The high concentration of these sugars not only increases your calorie intake, which increases your risk of obesity, it also makes these sugar more available to oral bacteria.
Take It Easy
One of the insights of the guide is that it is hard to cut sugar from our diets, especially if we are trying to do too much too fast. Making too many changes can not only be very demanding on you, but it can cause physiologic effects that make you more likely to backslide.
To help you be more successful in your efforts, the authors recommend that people take on just a few rules at a time, maybe even just one. Then they can increase the changes they make to slowly cut added sugar completely from their diet.
Start the Day Right
Changing your breakfast is a great place to start in removing sugar. Many breakfast options people consume are full of sugar. Sugary breakfast foods can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, which can make us moody and more reliant on caffeine (often coffee with more sugar).
Plus, these high-sugar foods do not take as long to digest, which means that we are more likely to want to eat lunch sooner.
Instead, people can choose from a variety of diet options, which include high protein breakfasts, vegetables, and even some grain-based options that do not have added sugar.
Drinks are a source of lots of added sugar. As we noted, your daily caffeine dose from coffee may come with sugar in it. In fact, if you are buying coffee drinks from a national chain, be aware that many of these may have more than 20 teaspoons of sugar in a cup. That is more than three times the amount of added sugar you could consume all day!
This is a place where you can easily cut a lot of sugar from your daily diet. Cut soda from your diet. This includes sugar free sodas. The sweetness of diet sodas can be bad for your palate and may make you consume more sugar overall. In addition, there is the problem with the carbonation, including the acid that can damage your teeth.
Cut down on fruit juices, too. These can also be high in sugar and acid (although these technically do not have added sugar, they still count because the sugars and acids from fruit are concentrated through processing).
Instead, try water, plain coffee or plain tea. If you must add sugar, make sure you add it yourself. Chances are, you are not going to add 20 teaspoons even at the beginning, and you can slowly cut down on the amount you do add.
This is something we all should be doing already, but most of us do not. We may assume that many of the foods we buy do not have much added sugar, but the truth is that a surprising number of foods actually have a lot of added sugar, even if they do not taste sweet.
When you are shopping, you should always look at the labels to see which ones have the highest levels of added sugar. Pick foods that have lower levels so you can cut down.
Make It Yourself
Once you start looking at labels, you will realize how hard it can be to cut out added sugar when you are buying prepared foods. It can also be a challenge when you are eating out. Your best solution is often to make more foods at home for yourself. That way, you can control everything that goes into it–there will be no added sugar unless you put it in.
But what do you do about dessert? We all like to have something sweet at some point in the day, but it is important to make sure this does not sabotage your efforts to cut down on sugar. For one thing, you can switch to fruit for your dessert. That way, you are getting nutrients with the sugar and not taking in too much.
If you really want to have a more traditional dessert, then portion control is important to limit added sugar. The Smart Living Guide recommends that we stick to a traditional portion size: about two or three Oreo cookies, which have remained largely the same over the decades (as long as you are not eating those with extra filling).
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body
The diet change in cutting back on sugar will really help you achieve better oral health as well as better overall health. You can cut down on your need for restorative dentistry, combat gum disease, and, as a result, enjoy fewer systemic health effects. To improve your results, it is also important to make sure you are making regular dental checkups.
To learn more about taking care of your oral health in St. Louis, please call (314) 375-5353 (Downtown) or (314) 678-7876 (Clayton) today for an appointment with dentist Dr. Chris Hill at City Smiles.