Addressing Sugar in a Heart-Healthy Diet

You can read the detrimental effects of sugar and listen to the reports over the media channels, but there is often a disconnect between reading and listening to sugar information and then implementing it into your daily routine. In our last blog, we covered how the misinformation of sugar has been disguised and in this article, we’ll shed light on tangible approaches to take when addressing sugar as part of your heart-healthy nutrition program!

Why Address Sugar in My Nutrition Program?

In a study published in 2014 by JAMA Internal Medicine, it was established that consuming too much added sugar increases your risk of dying from heart disease. The study confirmed that those who received 17 to 21 percent of their total calories from sugar were 38 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to those who only consumed eight percent.

Not only is sugar linked to heart disease but also to diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, tooth decay, and now Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar (added sugar, specifically) has negative impacts on your overall health.

Where Do Sugars Hide?

Added sugar is insidious because it’s great at hiding in plain sight. You’re likely to find it in the following food and beverages:

  • Processed food and snacks
  • Beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks
  • Fruit juice

Additionally, the following foods are notorious for having hidden sugars::

  • Salad dressings
  • Milk alternatives (almond, coconut, and soy milk)
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Deli meats (turkey, bacon, sausage, etc)
  • Health bars

Addressing sugar in your nutrition program will not only help prevent future health concerns, but it will help address those that you are currently facing.

Where Do I Start?

The best place to start is working on moving from a highly processed food diet to a whole-food based nutrition program. Meals prepared in restaurants and ready-made-meals are the worst offenders for foods loaded with sugar. Even if they boast that they’re low-fat or heart-healthy, always check the nutrition label for the sugar and carbohydrates they contain.

Labels are also hugely important to read. Start with identifying if sugar is in the ingredients and
where it appears. If it appears within the first four ingredients, this is an indication that it is chock-full of sugar and to steer clear. You’ll also want to look at the serving size — sometimes the sugar content won’t look that bad, but if the serving size is two per item, the sugar can actually be a lot higher. The last thing you’ll want to identify is the amount of sugar there is in grams.

The recommended amount of sugar per day is as follows:

Women – Six teaspoons = 25 grams = 100 calories
Men – Nine teaspoons = 36 grams = 150 calories

At a glance, the recommended amount of sugar may seem reasonable and eating or drinking one processed food item or beverage can have that amount in one serving. For example, yogurt has about three teaspoons, while soda has about nine teaspoons per bottle or can.

Again, reading labels is crucial to help address unwanted sugars in your heart-healthy nutrition program.

Addressing sugar is a journey for everyone and because of its abundance, it can be difficult to tackle every aspect at first. The takeaway is to do what you can and keep building a foundation.

If you’ve tackled processed food and moved into more of a whole-food diet, there are yet more things you can address.

Addressing starchy carbohydrates can be the next step when addressing sugar. But what do carbs have to do with sugar? Carbs, as it turns out, have everything to do with sugar. Carbohydrates are sugars and they are classified as simple and complex. The difference resides in how their sugars are digested. Simple carbs are rapidly digested and complex carbs take additional time to digest. Eating an abundance of carbohydrates such as breads and pastas will affect your blood glucose level, and bread generally has sugar in it. If you consume carbohydrates, sticking to whole grains may prove to be more beneficial because they contain more fiber and are slower to digest, limiting the blood-sugar spike.

When you’re transitioning away from sugar, you can’t live in a cave. At some point, you’ll be faced with eating out. Dining out can be hard to navigate in the beginning, but think consider a few of these helpful tips.

Most restaurants are very accommodating when it comes to adjusting your meals, but you’ll have to get comfortable with asking questions!

The best place start is to build your plate — choose a protein, incorporate plenty of vegetables, and leave a small portion for starches or grains. Avoid bread baskets and chips that often come before a meal. For beverages, stick with water or herbal tea and if you’re wanting a glass of wine, make a choice between that or desert. Dessert is a course of contention; if it’s triggering for you, skip it, but if you can share it or take a couple of nibbles, then do that instead.

Here’s what a sample meal may look like:

Grilled chicken with seasonal vegetables and a side salad — dressing on the side. Sub quinoa instead of mashed potatoes. Water to drink. A couple of bites of the chocolate cake.

Keep in mind, because restaurants have enormous portions, you can always have the kitchen box up half your order and then plate the other half. Or, turn any meal into a salad — just ask for it that way or on a bed of greens.

When you begin to implement new, healthy changes and limit sugar, start where you are and do what you can. Even if in the beginning you’re just reading labels and choosing better foods, that is the perfect place to start!

For further information on heart-healthy nutrition programs, schedule a consultation today with us at Cardio Metabolic Institute of New Jersey.