by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
We all want to be healthy, but deciding what to eat and drink can be a challenge. It seems that daily there are new reports on what is good and bad for us, and often something that is deemed detrimental is later declared beneficial.
For example, in the early 1960s, when cholesterol was declared an enemy of health, we all declared a war on fat. Now some fat is making a comeback, and studies show that not all fats are created equal.
Recently, sugar has been in the news. The federal government is updating food label requirements in 2018 and will require a list of the total sugars and added sugars in packaged foods. Many feel that excess sugar is a primary cause of obesity and heart disease, the leading killer of Americans. Gary Taubes, in his new book “The Case Against Sugar,” believes sugar is linked to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s and many more.
I asked Charlyn Fargo to provide us with a more in-depth look at sugar. She is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee and a former food and agribusiness editor with the State Journal-Register. She also teaches nutrition, baking and food sanitation for Lincoln Land Community College.
In the following, she writes on the history, the science, some alternatives, the controversy and the nutritional pros and cons of sugar. Thank you, Charlyn.
Sugar — it’s a love/hate relationship we have. We want a little sweet in our lives, but too much of a good thing can put the pounds on and be unhealthy.
Just what is sugar and what does it do? Sugar is an important source of energy to the human body. It is a carbohydrate, which is the most essential fuel for the brain, and it provides the body with the energy needed for various other organs to function. While we typically call it sugar, it goes by many other names — agave nectar, honey, cane juice, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup and even tapioca syrup. However, sucrose, or table sugar, is the main source of sugar in most parts of the world, coming in powdered, granular and liquid forms.
Sugar has been in the news lately for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we’re now distinguishing between natural sugars and added sugars. There is plenty of debate as to how much of either we should consume.
Examples of naturally occurring sugars include the fructose in fruit or the lactose in milk. Just because a food contains sugar doesn’t make it unhealthy. A medium apple has about 15 grams of natural sugar, but it also has 4 grams of fiber and many other vitamins, minerals phytonutrients and antioxidants, making it a good snack choice. Likewise, though a cup of milk has about 12 grams of natural sugar, it also provides 7 grams of protein and nine powerful nutrients to help with many body functions.
Added sugars are another story. Compare that apple and glass of milk to the added sugars in a chocolate glazed Dunkin’ donut – 17 grams and no nutrients; a 20-ounce Coke – 65 grams of sugar and no nutrients; and a half container of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream – 50 grams of sugar.
Is there a rule of thumb when making a sound choice? Yes, consume fewer than 10 grams of added sugar per serving in foods and products. Since ingredients have to be listed by weight, make sure sugar (or multiple sweeteners) aren’t listed first. Common sources of added sugars are soft drinks, candy, baked goods (like cakes, cookies and pies), fruit drinks, dairy desserts (like ice cream) and other grains, such as cereal, muffins and waffles. Some not so well known sources of added sugar in our diets are salad dressings (a light raspberry vinaigrette can have 14 grams of sugar compared to 2 grams in a light Italian), tomato sauces and breads.
Sugar performs a variety of functions in food products, in addition to providing a sweet taste and flavor. Sugar is used as a preservative in products such as jams and jellies and acts to inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Sugar is used in baked goods, like cakes, to hold moisture and prevent the staleness that occurs when these foods dry out. In canned fruits and vegetables, sugar enhances the texture and colors. Sugar is also used to prevent large ice crystals from forming in frozen sweet mixtures, like ice cream, and to support fermentation in products containing yeast, such as bread. In these roles and others, sugar is an important and versatile food ingredient. Sugar also is involved in the fermentation process to make products containing alcohol, such as wine. In non-food products, sugar slows the setting of cement and glues and is an ingredient in printer ink. Who knew?
However, it can be somewhat addictive. A neuroscientist at the University of Oregon studied how addictive sugar can be and found that heavy users of sugar develop a tolerance and consume more and more to feel the same effect. In another study, researchers gave 100 participants milkshakes varying in fat and sugar content and then used an MRI machine to see which parts of the brain were activated. They found that the high sugar shakes had a great effect on the “reward” center of the brain that can influence desire for food.
Does sugar make you fat? It all comes down to energy balance, as in how much of it is in the calories you consume. The American Heart Association recommends sugar intake be limited to 100 calories of added sugars per day. The World Health Organization recommends less than 10 percent of our total energy intake be sugar. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be 200 calories from added sugars. The American Medical Association recommends limiting the amount of all added caloric sweeteners to 32 grams or 8 teaspoons of sugar per day on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Those recommendations mean most of us need to cut back on sugar. For some, artificial sweeteners can help bridge the gap.
For others, the government wants to help by making sugary products, such as sweet drinks, more expensive. The city of Philadelphia, for example, recently added a 1.5 cent-an-ounce sweet drinks tax. Critics respond that the tax will result in layoffs in the food and beverage industry. Proponents say the tax will help curb sugar consumption.
My take as a dietitian is don’t worry so much about natural sugars. Fruits and vegetables are needed to make up half our plate, along with whole grains, lean meat and dairy. Because of the fiber and nutrients that go along with those natural sugars, studies show your body processes natural sugar differently than added sugars. Occasionally, have that piece of dark chocolate you crave. Just remember, a healthy diet takes moderation, variety and balance.
Here’s a recipe to satisfy a sweet craving that doesn’t break the sugar bank.
Chickpea Cookie Dough
*1 cup chickpeas, skins removed, patted dry
*1/3 cup natural peanut butter
*1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
*2 tablespoons agave nectar
*1/3 cup chocolate chips
Combine chickpeas, peanut butter, vanilla extract and agave in a blender or food processor. Blend until a fine puree.
Remove cookie dough mixture from blender, and place in a large bowl. Add the chocolate chips, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Serve with fresh, sliced apples.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.