QJ Health: Sugar's bittersweet side

It seems as though we’re constantly bombarded not only by the latest ‘superfood’ that we should be eating (acai, chard, coconut oil, etc.), but also with the newest ‘evil food.’ The most recent of which is none other than our favourite sweetener — sugar.

Recent studies have shown that there’s increasing evidence that sugar consumption has ties to heart disease, diabetes and obesity, some of the biggest names in the health care world.

Obesity alone costs Canada between $4.6-7.1 billion annually. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, those who get 25 per cent more of the daily caloric intake from added sugars are three times more at risk for death of heart disease.

Stemming from this concerning evidence, the Canadian Ministry of Health has decided to implement a percentage value for sugar on nutritional labels.

Currently, the number of grams of sugar in a product appears, but there’s no daily value percentage to contextualize the amount to consumers.

The ministry has decided that 100 grams of sugar will be the maximum recommended daily value, although less is desirable.

The “100 gram solution,” as The Globe and Mail has tongue-in-cheek described the move, may not be solving the root of the problem, though.

The Ministry of Health won’t be differentiating between added sugars and those that are naturally occurring, such as the ones found in fruit.

The new daily value will consider all sugars equal — a decision that’s questionable to many nutritionists. The sugar found in healthy foods like berries, bananas, apples and so on, shouldn’t be eliminated from your diet.

Where did the figure of a round 100 grams come? Health Canada said 100 grams is easy to remember and understand, which is appealing for consumers trying to make a change.

Currently, the average Canadian takes in around 110 grams of sugar a day, so setting the limit at 100 grams means that although people will have to make alterations, they’ll still feel the number is achievable. Australia, New Zealand and the European Union (all of whom set their sugar limits before Canada) chose 90 grams as the target for their citizens.

But how well do you know your sugar content? The amount in these common foods may surprise you. A banana has 17 grams, ½ cup of raisins has 46 grams, a can of Coke has 39 grams, ½ cup of oatmeal has two grams and an egg has zero grams.

The best thing is to be mindful. Look at the label before you eat something, not in an obsessive way (you can still eat the chocolate bar if you want it), but just so that you’re making an informed decision.

Many of the times, companies also make the serving size smaller than the average portion that a person eats. I know I never eat only a half-cup of cereal in the morning, so be aware of how much they’re recommending.

Consider healthy swaps, like flavouring your own yogurt with cocoa powder or cinnamon instead of buying flavoured varieties. If you have fruit in the morning, maybe make your afternoon snack incorporate veggies.

When flavouring dishes, opt for spices rather than prepackaged sauces or mixes that are often packed with added sugars. Make your own salad dressing, using olive oil, lemon juice and red wine or balsamic vinegar and you’ll save yourself a ton of sugar.

Finally, the most important thing is to lead an active lifestyle. Sugar really gets you if you’re sedentary, so make time to move.

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