Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hold the sugar?

HALLIE EPHRON: So in the latest nutrition news, it turns out "added sugars" can kill you. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed survey data from 1999-2010  and found that the 20% of people whose intake of sugar is highest were twice(!) as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as the 20% with the lowest sugar intake.

Now I read this feeling pretty sanguine. I drink my coffee and tea unsweetened, never drink soda; candy and cake and pie are just an occasional treat.

Then one morning I'm eating my unsugared bowl of Raisin Bran, touted on the box "heart healthy" (they added a sprinkle of flax seeds).  I happen to read the NUTRITION FACTS. And there it is, my little breakfast bowl contains 18 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams a day. Yikes!

Keep in mind: 1 teaspoon of sugar has four grams. So it's as if someone dumped FOUR AND A HALF TEASPOONS of sugar in my cereal bowl.
Or maybe not - because food labels don't distinguish between (bad for you
!) added sugars and the (not so bad for you) sugars occur naturally in products (like the raisins in the bran.)

Still, I start going through my cabinets. 
- Cranberry juice ("no sugar added"): 28 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce glass
- My go-to dessert, a 4-ounce ice cream sandwich: 16 grams of sugar
- A slice of whole grain bread has just a few grams, but peanut butter (3 grams in 2 T) and raspberry jam (a whopping 13 grams in 1T) are loaded. I really love raspberry jam.

So are you paying attention to this latest nutrition news, or have you been numbed by wave after wave of warnings about what to avoid eating. Cutting down the sugar in your diet -- piece of cake or not?

LUCY BURDETTE: I think it's smart to read the studies as they come out, because then we are AWARE of what we're consuming and where we can make tweaks. Exactly what you showed us Hallie!

So look at your cereal box and see how many grams of sugar in a serving, and then compare to others you might choose. (I bought a box of Barbara's Honest O's this week--1 gram of sugar--yay!) Fruit juice and soda are killers though--probably should be on the occasional treats list. I'd rather consume my sugar in a homemade cookie:)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Every day of my life is a battle to keep the 9-year-old kiddo from consuming his own weight in sugar. (I jest, but I do wonder what he’d do left in a bakery or ice cream parlour on his own?) Yes, even avoiding the obvious sodas and juice, it’s a nightmare. Since he’s active (fencing, basketball), there’s no weight issue, but I worry about his overall health!

I can’t eradicate sugar completely for him or for us, but I shop and cook so there’s plenty of fresh, unprocessed stuff in the house. And if there’s a cookie, it will be homemade and have raisins and oatmeal to balance out the sugar.

Don’t even get me started on salt…

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been on a low-sugar regime since I was a teenager (diagnosed as
hypoglycemic) so have always been careful about avoiding sugar, but as careful as I am, Hallie's post was a real wake-up call. 

My half-cup of "healthy" granola in the morning has 10 grams! And if I go with whole wheat toast or a whole wheat crumpet, the sugar is not bad, but, oh, like Hallie with her raspberry, I love my cherry jam. That's not to mention the organic, 2% milk I put in my tea and on my cereal, which adds another few grams.  And that's just breakfast!  I'm checking out Lucy's cereal... And going back to fruit only jam for toast...

Susan, I was very sugar-conscious with my daughter when she was growing up, and it is tough. We were the only house that never had soft drinks, or processed snacks, and where juice was served in tiny portions, if at all. I think it was worth it in the long term, as she was hardly ever ill and grew up to be both beautiful and healthy. She's also a very good cook, but neither one of us makes sweets, not even cookies.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm the biggest sugar junkie in my house, I'm embarrassed to say. The "25 grams of sugar" news made me roll my eyes a bit - have you ever tried to keep track of how many products have fructose and sucrose in them? I swear, fifty percent of food by weight in the United States is comprised of corn syrup. Not to mention the sugar content of alcohol. They're taking my glass of wine over my dead body.

That being said, I've tried to raise the kids with limited sugar  - soda as a special treat, homemade cookies rather than boxed, Cheerios and bagels instead of Sugar Sugaries. And I'm not sweating the new recommendation too much. I've lived long enough to see bran be proclaimed as the savior, then not-so-hot; for eggs to be killers, now okay for you; and for "eat-no-fats" to become "eat-no-carbs."

Moderation in all things.   

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I hardly ever eat sugar. I am really careful about it. I do have sugar in my AM coffee, but not in the afternoon. Otherwise, really, as little as possible. No jam, no candy, no sweetened anything.  I missed it at first--I don't at all, now.

Sure, I'll have an occasional bite or three of something, that can't hurt. And a Twizzler or two on Halloween, I mean, that is somewhat required. But I have no sweet tooth. 

And those food studies always amuse me. They ALWAYS change. Remember when you could die from peanut butter? And now they;re saying eggs are fine. They must have gotten the same PR person who is suddenly pushing kale.

However. I'm with you, Susan. Not giving up the glass of wine.

RHYS BOWEN: I grew up in England where sugar is one of the four food groups. So many English kids live on candy that half the population winds up with false teeth... or that may
have changed by now. But when my kids were growing up they had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches almost every day, ice cream as treats, but never sodas. Soda was something not known in our house. Although they did get orange juice, another sugar no-no.

These days we have dessert when company comes or my granddaughters are visiting. I have Wheatabix or oatmeal for breakfast with fresh fruit, or tomatoes on sourdough toast (almost no sugar). I do like a small teaspoon full in my tea and coffee and we really don't eat many processed foods. But my glass of wine or John's beer with dinner both have sugar in them. 

Our family motto is Inter Utrumque tene. Steer a middle course. I choose to abide by that. Eat healthily, small meals and the occasional treat. I expect they'll come up with another study next year that says everyone needs ten spoons of sugar a day!

HALLIE: That wouldn't surprise me, Rhys, because the other food recent food news is that regular old butter isn't all that bad for you after all.

So are you trying to cut down on sugar? Wouldn't it be nice if labels told us how how much sugar in a product is the kind we're supposed to strictly limit. Desperately needing to know: is honey ok? Because I really love honey with butter on my biscuits. And like Julia, I'm not giving up my glass of wine.


  1. I always thought I did a pretty good job with the healthy, nutritional meals . . . and then came the sugar-hiding-in-everything news. Who knew? It’s hard because it is in everything, but we’ve always tried to limit the processed stuff in our meals.

    It’s difficult to keep on the right side of healthy, though, since it seems that every week or so they are changing the rules of what’s good to eat and what’s not, like the butter/margarine issue. I’ve been smug about how coffee has some health benefits and on last night’s news came the coffee-is-not-good-for-you announcement . . . .

  2. Oh, please, NOT COFFEE! Seriously...

    Over time we've been told to avoid salmon (farmed AND fresh), chicken, beef, pork, flour, rice, strawberries.

    Even soy ... two seconds of searching unearthed this:
    "Soybeans -- even organically grown soybeans -- naturally contain "antinutrients" such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens and phytoestrogens. Traditional fermentation destroys these antinutrients, which allows your body to enjoy soy's nutritional benefits. However, most Westerners do not consume fermented soy, but rather unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soymilk, tofu, TVP, and soy infant formula." More at Huff Post

  3. Terri Herman-PonceApril 10, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    I just stick with the Mediterranean way of eating and also whole foods. No worries in that respect. Nature knows what's best for me, and that's what I eat. Though I'll admit to cheating now and then. Stick with whole foods, non-GMO's what Mother Nature intended for all of us.

  4. Yesterday I found out we're not supposed to wear yellow. Today, "no sugar added" is a lie.

    What illusion will you destroy next, Jungle Reds? I already know about Santa Claus. :-)

  5. NOT COFFEE!! Coffee is fine, just fine.

  6. Everything in moderation (except wine) and don't eat anything you can't pronounce an ingredient of. If I don't have a piece or two of dark chocolate every day, it's not a day.

    I've been making our own bread again, a mostly whole-wheat sourdough and it has no sugar at all. Like Terri, the Mediterranean diet works well for health. And I'm awfully glad the available local foods are about to leave the dreaded root crop season!

  7. Terri - I'm with you. They drink wine, right? And olive oil. And fish and veggies. Yum.

    Right, Edith - Or as Julia Child famously said: "Everything in moderation... including moderation."

  8. When my son started going to a military-style training gym, they told him to cut out all sugar. I thought we were already doing pretty well, and then I discovered that Jif has 3 grams of sugar.

    So we've more or less switched to all natural peanut butter.

    Hallie, check out Smucker's Sugar-Free Raspberry Jam. It's *really* good. (Also: kind of expensive. But worth it.) Their Sugar-Free Apricot Jam is also good. (The strawberry isn't as good as the other two, but it's OK.)

    And the natural sugars, while still sugar, are relatively healthier. I use brown rice syrup, agave, honey, and maple syrup now when baking (which one I use depends on the recipe).

    BTW, my son has lost 15 pounds so far :-) (And he's gained a lot of muscle from working out, so he's actually lost more than that.)

  9. Yes, everything in moderation.

    We don't usually have sodas, drink mostly water, I make my own bread (no sugar), use as little processed food as possible. As Edith says, if the ingredient list is mostly unpronounceable, skip it. I forget the guys name, "Eat real foods, mostly plants."

    Oh, and Hallie, now they are saying that the standard salt intake guidelines are too low for people without existing heart disease/conditions.

    But don't worry - it'll all change next month.

  10. And it also reminds me of another cynical joke: "100% of people who drink water, die."

  11. Laughing, Mary Sutton! A great reminder that correlation is not causation...

  12. Michael Pollan said it, Mary. "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't."

  13. If this makes everyone feel better, wine doesn't have sugar (the sugar in grapes is fermented into alcohol)so you don't have to count that in your 25 grams per day:-)

    It does have calories, unfortunately, about 120 for a glass of dry white wine.

    Also, the naturally occurring sugars in milk and plain yogurt are just that--naturally occurring, not "added." Whew. I can still have my milk in my tea.

    So everybody, check your labels for all the sugar aliases, eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies and raise your glass of wine to Julia Childs!

    Seriously, here's an interesting article in Huff Post, about a family that cut out all sugar for a year.

  14. I stopped eating more than an egg a week years ago based on the egg scare. Now we're told to eat as many as we like - oops we were wrong.

    I don't over indulge in sugar but I'm not going to be crazy about it either. In 10 years "they" will decide sugar isn't so bad.

  15. I take it all with a grain of salt :-). Moderation is the key.

  16. Loving the ladies who refuse to give up their glass of wine - I'm with you!

    Otherwise, my goal in life is moderation. But I'm lucky that I've never had a sweet tooth. I actually do not like sweet foods, so I search and search to find food with no added sugar - Whole Foods makes a granola with sugar-free applesauce, I make my own granola bars, etc. I figure every day I'm going to read about new research that calls something into question. I'm with Terri and Edith (and many of you) - Mediterranean diet, whole grains, lots of leafy greens ... there are so many great recipes out there once you start searching. We're lucky to live in a time when such a wealth of healthy foods is available to us - it's just a matter of choosing. But it can be fun if you like to experiment in the kitchen. And, of course, if you enjoy conversations such as this one - which I do!

  17. I've been trying to drastically reduce intake of sugar and flour.
    It sneaks in everywhere. I loved the movie "Sleeper" where Woody Allen wakes up in the future and finds out junk food was actually good for you. If only.

  18. Hallie, I actually was aware of the sugar news and the label reading one must do to avoid all that added sugar. Now, if I could only do better. I try, but it's so hard. Of course, eating a piece of chocolate candy isn't as pleasurable as it used to be when I'm aware that it's 7 grams of sugar and my favorite protein bars, Zone, are 16 or more. My daughter does a fantastic job of sugar limiting for herself and her family. No sodas, only occasional treats such as ice cream or cookies. She is amazing at the alternative snacks and food items she uses. Of course, she's big on fruits and vegetables, more natural foods. It's the processed foods she avoids, including lunch meat. She also shops at a whole foods store. I expect she will be making her own bread soon, too. I wish I were more like my daughter, but convenience is a temptation for me.

    Debs, I have seen the book that the article is about, Year of No Sugar, and I kind of want to read it, but I'm afraid I'll be so appalled by what to avoid that it might ruin food too much for me. Edith, I like your quote about not eating anything your grandmother wouldn't.

    I do know that when I watch my sugar intake carefully, I do feel better, so I'm convinced that it's a good thing to do. Maybe, today's post here will give me the impetus to do better. Just another way this blog serves us.

  19. I raised my daughters to be wonderfully careful and aware about food -- but, for myself, I am truly a mess when it comes to sugar.

    I do a few things right, though -- shop around the edges of a supermarket; cook & eat at home; eat more than five helpings of vegetables.

    I don't like this sugar news at all. Let's see if I can change some habits.

    Thanks for the wake-up call.

  20. The one that shocked, SHOCKED me was how much sugar there is in TONIC WATER. Tonic Water and lime is my go-to summer drink, and of course, there is nothing remotely sweet in the flavour.

    Surprise! The quinine is so bitter, it needs a ton of sugar to make it simply not-sweet.

    It's always something.

  21. I knew about sugar in soda, Susan D, but I agree with you Tonic water is so bitter, who'd think it's loaded with sugar. 8 oz has a whopping 22 grams of sugar. That's about what you're not supposed to exceed in a day.

    An 8 oz glass of Pepsi has 30 grams of sugar. That's 7 and a half teaspoons of sugar. Imagine putting that much in a cup of tea...

  22. Hallie, when I was in college, I used to use 10-12 of those teaspoon packets in a single cup.

    I use much less these days. =)

  23. It was the early 90s, and I was 18 and stupid. What can I say.

    The buzz after 15 cups while pulling an all-nighter for my metaphysics final was incredible, though. LOL

  24. I always say I am going to cut down on sugar. And then I go to the store and buy more sweets. I have no self-control when it comes to sugar.

  25. My best strategy to avoid sugar is to avoid the entire middle part of the grocery store. Anything processed uses sugar or some sugarlike substance with an -ose ending. (As in sucrose, dextrose, maltrose, fructose, etc. All sugars of some kind.) And don't get me started on the extremely misleading "evaporated cane juice". Which is nothing more than regular old sugar.

    Even fat-free yogurt is suspect. Instead of fat the manufacturers use sugars. I try to have the plain, full-fat kind when I can find it.

    We just got home from two long car trips that met in the middle, and then we came home together. Just try eating healthy on the road. It's extremely difficult. So glad to be home.

  26. Don't jeer at me for knowing (or for using artificial sweetener)-but there is WONDERFUL diet tonic water, Susan! Schweppes. I can hardly taste the difference...and it woks beautifully, zero calories!

  27. Mark, LOL, you're addicted to sugar and mysteries!

    We never had much dessert as kids because my mother didn't care for sweets. Now unfortunately, my other family--the in-laws--can't go a day without dessert. John has ice cream every night, but he exercises like a maniac so I don't worry about him...

  28. ps the point I meant to make is that sugar is a habit. And mine has changed for the worse!

  29. Hmmm... since all foods you eat turn to sugar (glucose), the important thing is not whether you eat sugar or not, but how fast what you eat converts to sugar. Slow down glucose absorption with whole grains like oatmeal.

    I love Barbara's Cereal!

  30. Susan and Hallie, watch out for the quinine in that tonic water-- it can stop peristalsis in its tracks.

    As for adding sugar-- I bake my own cookies, and I don't like sweet cookies. I make up the recipes as I go along, but I use perhaps half to 3/4 cup in 4 dozen cookies. I never add sugar to my coffee or tea.

    But you know what? Life is short. I like Hershey's kisses, Peeps (don't get me started on Peeps), and occasionally some really good ice cream or custard. The trick is the real stuff, just less of it. (I only eat peanut butter that contains nothing but peanuts and salt. Smucker's is good.). I'm not going to eat chocolate that tastes icky; it's COMFORT food, and should be comforting.

    But my go-to snack is raw carrots (and yes, they are relatively high in sugar, but if you don't eat enough to turn you orange, they won't trigger a sugar high or put weight on you).

    Read the labels, and don't go overboard. Whatever they're saying you should or shouldn't eat this week will change by next week.

  31. I'm with Julia. Their warnings change so much, and in my lifetime I've seen many reverse--coffee bad, no good (or maybe bad again?), eggs bad, now okay, avocado and olive oil bad, now good, etc. ad nauseum. I like the idea of nothing my grandmother wouldn't have eaten.

  32. I'm from the Missouri Ozarks, so I'm contrary. Whenever I hear a health recommendation on the news, I go out and do the opposite of what they say. I've lived long enough to remember when margarine and vegetable shortening were touted as health foods to use in place of butter. That was wacko, as we all now know. And I believe that, as Mary Poppins might say, a little sugar each day makes the world a brighter place. Btw, here's a hillbilly tip: next time you make a pie crust, use lard. Makes a FABULOUS golden tasty crust! And you don't even need to kill a pig; you can buy it at the store!

  33. And, Nancy, after years of excoriating lard as poison and extolling vegetable shortening instead, we now know that veg. shortening is deadly and lard much better.

  34. Though I grew up eating healthy food, as an adult, I notice that I rely on sugar as a painkiller.

    I had a cracked tooth, which my dentist with his antiquated machines, was not able to discover. I was in so much pain that the over the counter painkillers did not work at all.

    The only thing that stopped the pain was my adding sugar to my morning cereal or making cinnamon toast.

    Once I got a second opinion and got the dental implant, the pain stopped and I went back to healthy food.