The American Heart Association recommends limiting the daily intake of added sugar to 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men (heart.org). For reference, one 12-ounce can of cola contains about 8 teaspoons of added sugar, for about 130 calories. Most American women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, and most American men should eat or drink no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars. Unfortunately, Americans are consuming 22 and 30 teaspoons of the sweet stuff each day. Just recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the United States Department of Health, which convenes every five years, determined added sugars is one of their biggest concerns. This committee recommends that Americans limit their added sugars to no more than 10% of their daily calories.
“Nutrition Panel Calls For Less Sugar and Eases Cholesterol and Fat Restrictions” – New York Times
Cane sugar, turbinado brown sugar, fruit juice sweetened, agave nectar, organic sugar, molasses, and honey…they all sound like healthy sweeteners and are packaged sustainably, right?
While some of these sources of sugar may come from cleaner, less processed sources, sugar can be dangerous to your diet, waistline and overall health in any disguise. We can’t deny the uplifting feeling we get when finishing off a meal with a hot molten lava chocolate cake, or dipping our chocolate chip cookie in milk. However, do you get that same feeling when eating your favorite yogurt, cereal, or energy bar? These everyday foods in our regular diet may contain more sugar than your favorite chocolate chip cookie. For example, a 6 oz. Yoplait Blackberry Harvest Original Yogurt has a whopping 27 grams of sugar. To put this in perspective, a 1.55 oz. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar has 24 grams of sugar.
The crux of the issue we face as a nation is that added sugars are piled into your foods to make them taste better (so we think!). Sugar has a place in your diet but should come from the natural sugars that derive from whole fruits, vegetables and plain, and unsweetened milk products. Added sugars contain empty calories without any beneficial nutrition. These are concentrated sources of sugar, which are devoid of dietary fiber or water, typically found in regular soda, sugar, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, dairy desserts/milk products, and other grains like cereals and breads. Added sugars can also be hiding in your favorite salad dressings, sauces, ketchup, tomato sauces and deli meats.
Even our star NBA players, who can burn calories at excessively high rates, cannot afford to have a diet filled with empty sugar calories. A diet filled with added sugars puts anyone at risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure. obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Beverage Belly, not Beer Belly?
While excess alcohol can contribute to a larger amount of fat in the abdominal region, sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit juices, sports drinks and sweetened teas can be a contributor to weight gain as well. A recent study published in the June 2014 edition of The Journal of Nutrition shows “emerging evidence suggests that greater intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may be associated with abnormal fat accumulation in visceral adipose tissue (VAT). VAT is independently linked to the pathogenesis of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The reality of being surrounded by sugar in life, and especially in the NBA, is no secret. Challenge yourself to examine the amount of sugar around you with a more mindful eye! Is it on the plane? In the locker room? At your brunch? At your practice facility?
Here are some tips to keep your health sweeter and manage your daily sugar budget successfully:
-Eat whole, real fruit to get your sugar fix rather than fruit juices or dried fruit with added sugars. Eating a whole piece of fruit rather than the juice will save a huge amount of concentrated sugar and prevent spikes in your blood sugar, which make your body crave even more sugar. Dietary fiber and nutrition will help fuel your body efficiently and make you feel more full and satisfied.
-If your sugar intake is above the recommended guidelines, take a close look as to where you personally can make changes. Choose a lower sugar yogurt and boost the protein, or choose a cookie with less sugar and dip it in peanut butter to make you feel more full and satisfied.
-Cut back on portions and serving sizes rather than going “cold turkey”. If you are drinking 3-4 sodas per day, just start by decreasing the amount each week. If you regularly order a 16 oz. soda, switch to an 8 oz. soda. As you eliminate these extra sugars, your body will crave them less and less.
-Add more healthy fats to your diet to cut sugar cravings. Snacking on raw or even lightly salted almonds/peanuts instead of pretzels or chips can help decrease sugar cravings. Dip your chips in guacamole rather than salsa to help you stabilize your blood sugar and prevent crashes later in the day.
We recognize that part of life’s pleasures is enjoying something sweet. However, I am sure you’ll agree that as a nation this has gotten out of hand. So now it’s not just the weight that you have to look out for but also the other negative health issues that are associated with the consumption of too much sugar. Good luck here!
Any questions or want specific suggestions?
Contact Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN,
Official Nutritionist for the NBA Coaches Association