The Obsession with Sugar

As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own. This post is on behalf of the Calorie Control Council.

 

I recently read an article claiming that crystalline fructose was different than the fructose in fruit because it’s “stripped” of fiber. Fact: Fructose is fructose.

Unless you are slurping up clear liquid fructose concoctions all day long (which don’t exist), the sugars you consume are most likely consumed with other foods/meals, which likely includes some fiber.

Fructose has been in the news quite a bit recently, and the movie Fed Up has stirred up some controversial ideas. The movie sends a message that the food industry and government could be a factor in the cause of obesity, particularly pediatric obesity. The movie claims that food companies market products to children, which causes poor eating habits.

Early years

Unfortunately simply looking for a one-ingredient-cause, or the promotion of extreme dietary change, won’t address the real problem: A lack of education and a lack of understanding the true importance of proper nutrition and eating habits. In children, the early years are very important in terms of feeding. Eating isn’t just about food choices, it’s also very much about behavior and habits. Good eating habits begin early – right at birth – as mother’s nurse or bottle feed their infants. Taking cues from the infant early in life (for instance stopping bottle or breast when the infant turns away) helps the connection to his natural satiety cues develop. A breastfed newborn does not require “the food industry” – only his mother. The mother however has to learn how to eat properly to fuel her baby, and then begin to set a good example as the baby grows. Early, and proper, introduction of food at the age of 4-6 months also helps an infant learn about healthy eating habits.

Feeding Your Family a Balanced Diet

So why does the media insist that sugar or fructose is the big universal problem? All of this focus on sugars may indeed backfire. The goal is to get people to learn more about nutrition basics, cook more meals at home, even if some packaged food is used along with whole food.

If most people would worry less about getting a magnifying glass out to read ingredient labels and worry more about planning 3 balanced meals, there’d be no issue balancing your diet. Sugar helps make some foods palatable, and in some cases it simply enhances the flavors of food. Instead of obsessing over every gram of sugar, focus on what you should be adding to your diet and the sugars will automatically be reduced.

  • Eat real food first – lean protein, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, bread, and grains.
  • It’s okay to use some packaged foods for convenience, just balance it out. Sitting down with your family at the table for supper is a great goal.
  • Learn some simple cooking techniques and cook as a family. Start with 5 go-to recipes. A vegetable recipe can really give you a whole new appreciation for how good food can taste!
  • If you are a new parent, learn more about feeding children. Buy a good book, or find a dietitian. Young children need foods from the 5 food groups to grow, they need smaller portions than older children, teens or adults. Toddlers shouldn’t drink soda at all, but as children approach school age, you can provide sweet drinks occasionally as a treat as you teach your child about moderation. By the teen years, they’ll understand how to choose healthy food first then allow for the treats.
  • Don’t worry about the sugars on ingredient labels of products that only have <1 to 2 grams of sugar per serving (items such as tortilla chips, salsa, bottled salad dressing, whole grain crackers).
  • Buy more fresh produce.
  • Consider the other nutrients provided by a food that may have added sugars. For instance – the calcium and protein in yogurt or chocolate milk; or the fiber and vitamins from the oatmeal you add 2 teaspoons of sugar to; or the particular sweet and sour dressing that allows you to really enjoy a large veggie-packed salad.
  • Enjoy sweets in moderation and on special occasions.

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