is addicted to ketchup, dipping everything — even broccoli
— in a generous red puddle. After she recently finished off
an entire bottle, I was shopping for a replacement when I
noticed some brands touting “reduced sugar” and
“sweetened with honey.”
it hit me: Ketchup has sugar in it. Probably has way too much.
No wonder it helps the broccoli go down. But I wondered, is
sugar so bad for her? For me? For all of us?
Too much of it
certainly is, doctors say. Some are even calling it
“toxic,” pointing to evidence that its overconsumption is
linked to serious health problems, including diabetes, heart
disease and liver disease.
shockingly easy to consume way, way too much sugar without
realizing it. We know we’re eating sugar when we grab a
doughnut or a cookie. But it’s also a major ingredient in
packaged breads, pasta sauces, salad dressings, chicken
stocks, flavored yogurts and tons of condiments, from ketchup
Often, if a
product is labeled “low-fat,” it’s full of sugar
instead. And food and drinks that appear healthful can be far
from sugar-free: Ingredients like organic brown rice syrup or
molasses are added sugars, just like high-fructose corn syrup.
All share the same negative health consequences when consumed
Taking a break
from sugar is one way to take stock of your intake and perhaps
make some healthy changes to your diet. That’s why the Star
Tribune is hosting the 28-Day Sugar Free Challenge in
February. (Yes, we picked the shortest month of the year to
make this not-so-sweet challenge a little easier.)
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tips, information, accountability and support, including some
fun daily challenges, in the Variety section and in our closed
Facebook group (http://bit.ly/sugarfreestrib). Join us!
The goal is to
cut out added sugar. Not just the stuff we dump in our coffee,
but all the different syrups and sweeteners added to packaged
A University of
North Carolina survey found that 68 percent of all packaged
supermarket products have added sugar, leading many shoppers
to essentially serve up dessert not as a treat but as each
course of every meal. And while the American Heart Association
advises men to consume no more than nine teaspoons of added
sugar a day, women to curtail their intake to six teaspoons
and kids to have even less, the average American downs 17
teaspoons, according to the latest federal estimate.
sugary drinks make up a big part of this. Just one 12-ounce
can of Coca-Cola, with its 9.75 teaspoons of sugar, puts
anyone over the Heart Association’s recommended limit.
Added sugar is
what has doctors so worried, not the naturally occurring
sugars that we consume when we eat fresh fruits and unflavored
dairy products. When sugars are naturally combined with fiber,
nutrients or fat, we metabolize them differently (we also
consume less sugar because we feel fuller faster).
research suggests that when our body gets too much of
sugar’s fructose too quickly, we convert it to a kind of fat
that’s especially damaging.
“We have to
deal with this additional amount of sugar somehow, and it gets
stored in the body as fat,” explained Dr. Samar Malaeb, an
endocrinologist and nutrition expert with the University of
very highly inflammatory type of fat tissue, it’s not
healthy fat tissue, and it secretes a lot of inflammatory
substances that circulate in the blood.”
This leads to
insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and the deposition of
cholesterol in the arteries, she said. That’s where heart
disease comes in.
movement has been on the rise for several years, with books
like Gary Taubes’ “The Case Against Sugar,” which
compares sugar to tobacco. There also are cautionary
documentaries, including “That Sugar Film,” in which
Australian Damon Gameau downed 40 teaspoons a day for 60 days,
just through sports drinks, yogurts and condiments with
“hidden sugars.” Even though he maintained his activity
level and caloric intake, within three weeks he gained weight
and developed fatty liver disease.
took on the issue as first lady and the Food and Drug
Administration created a new line for “added sugar” in its
nutrition label template. (It’s set to be fully phased in by
2021.) Pediatricians now tell new parents to skip juice
entirely and give their kids fresh or puréed fruit instead.
Brooke Alpert described sugar as “the new controlled
substance” when she co-wrote “The Sugar Detox” a few
years ago. She advises taking a sugar “break” or a
“reset” just to make people aware of the added sugar in
everyday choices, from coffee with vanilla syrup (more than 3
teaspoons) to a Moscow mule cocktail (more than 5 teaspoons).
A sugar break
“brings an awareness,” she said, “and then you’re able
to use that awareness to allow yourself to find that sweet
spot where it’s OK to have the cookie, but you’re not
putting sugar into your coffee.”
A few decades
ago, nutritionists advised us to avoid fat and count calories
and the food industry responded with products like Snackwells
cookies, Pam spray oil and low-fat flavored yogurts loaded
Now, we seek
out “healthy fats” and the idea of counting calories in
and calories out is outdated, said Leslie Branham, a Twin
Cities personal trainer.
really about the quality of the foods you’re putting into
your body,” she said. “We are what we eat, and it’s no
gave up candy for 30 days back in 2015, breaking her own gummy
bear habit. Now, she has led nearly a dozen monthlong online
challenges to go without added sugar and processed foods.
Taking a break
from added sugar can make a real difference in your health.
Studies have shown that cutting out sugar for just two weeks
can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Hensrud, who runs the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, said
that the negative health impact of sugar is broader than many
extra calories that have no nutritional value, and can drain
the body of vitamins because it needs certain nutrients in
order to metabolize. It can cause dental cavities,
inflammation, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Finally,
it can displace healthier foods or drinks (like when a child
drinks soda instead of a glass of milk).
quadruple whammy,” Hensrud said.
people’s personalities might be better suited to trying to
simply cut back gradually, it is safe to suddenly stop eating
added sugar, Hensrud said. “As long as you’re getting
adequate calories, there really aren’t any physical or
health issues,” he said.
Tribune’s 28-Day Sugar Free Challenge starts Feb. 1.
up my whole family for the challenge. And my little ketchup
addict is going cold turkey.
If we can do
it, you can, too!