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Massage Today
January, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 01

The Facts About Sugar: The Sweet and the Sour of It

By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT

While on a flight to Phoenix this past fall, I came across an article on sugar that I found interesting. It made me wonder exactly how much sugar was in the non-fat, no whip, grande peppermint white chocolate mocha I was sipping.

After settling in at the hotel, I checked Starbuck's website for the nutritional information, and interestingly, sugar is not listed. After some more online research, I found out my drink had 49 grams of sugar. Well, what exactly does that amount to? Is it a lot? We have been hearing more and more about the excessive use of sugar in our society and its possible effect on obesity and diabetes. But exactly how much we should or should not be consuming has not been made overtly clear. Since we work in the wellness field, it would certainly behoove us to get a sense of where our eating habits fall in the sugar-consumption spectrum.

It turns out that 49 grams of sugar is indeed a lot of sugar. In fact, it is more than double the recommended daily intake of added sugar for women. For the first time ever, in 2009, the American Heart Association published recommendations on sugar consumption (Circulation, August 2009). The report explained that we need to start limiting the amount of added sugars we consume, not naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit, vegetables and dairy products. For women, that means we should consume no more than 24 grams (about six teaspoons) of added sugar a day. For men, the recommendation is no more than 36 grams (about nine teaspoons) of added sugar a day, and for children the recommendation is 12 grams per day, or three teaspoons. Many a survey has found that on average, Americans consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis.

sugar cubes - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark After reading this report, I was quite shocked by how much added sugar most of us are eating without even realizing it. Now that I know how to read the nutritional labels (4 grams = 1 teaspoon or 1 gram = 1/4 teaspoon), I can try to do a better job of keeping track of my sugar intake. The problem, however, is that almost all processed foods have sugar added to them. That whole wheat bread I switched to in order to eat more healthy? Five added grams of sugar in one slice. My creamy peanut butter? Three grams of added sugar. Combined with my daily two cups of coffee (with cream and sugar) and I have reached already reached my limit. The half pint of chocolate milk children get from the school cafeteria? Well, that has 18 grams of added sugar. Add that to the sugar found in popular cereals, yogurts, granola bars and fruit juices, and you will soon understand why doctors are associating sugar consumption with the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes.

Let's be realistic: time and financial constraints make it almost impossible for the average family to prepare three meals a day without using any processed foods. So what, if anything, can we do to decrease sugar consumption?

  1. The singular, most effective change to make is to eliminate all processed desserts and snacks and replace them with fresh fruit. Notice I said the most effective change, not the easiest. If you cannot give up chocolate and ice cream altogether, try replacing as much processed food with fresh fruit as you can. For instance, instead of packing fruit cups for lunch, pack grapes instead. Grab an apple for the 2 p.m. post-lunch sugar crash instead of a granola bar.
  2. For coffee addicts, try eliminating sugar and honey from your cup and just use cream or milk.
  3. When baking or cooking, the American Heart Association recommends cutting the amount of sugar called for by a third or a half. If the difference in taste is noticeable, try using extracts (vanilla, almond, orange) in place of some sugar.

I chose this topic because our personal state of health does directly relate to our ability to treat clients. If the body is constantly directing energy towards managing insulin levels, it is pulling that energy away from other areas. If we could train our bodies to resist the immediate gratification of the sugar “high,” would we feel even more energetic in the long run? Maybe we could handle doing one more massage a day? Or have enough energy to increase how much we workout? Many in the wellness and fitness industry condone sugar elimination cleanses. After writing this article, I am curious to learn more about them. For now, though, I think I will start by passing on the Starbucks mocha next time I fly.


Sharon Puszko is the owner/director/educator for Day-Break Geriatric Massage Institute. She may be contacted at or through her Web site: www.daybreak-massage.com.

 

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