By Rachel Begun, MS, RD
I can dedicate an entire blog post to the concept of mindful eating, but for the purpose of this post I will reference it as meaning consciously and selectively choosing a food or ingredient you would like to enjoy and taking the time to tune into all of your senses and savor eating it.
Which brings me to the topic of sugar, an ingredient we do not eat mindfully in this country. We eat far too much of it in obviously sweet foods and beverages, but we also add more than is necessary to recipes (even savory ones), and food manufacturers overuse it in packaged foods (even in savory products).
We also know that many gluten-free foods can contain more calories, fat and sugar per serving than their gluten-containing counterparts. So, it’s particularly important for those following a gluten-free diet to be savvy consumers when making food purchasing decisions.
Why am I so charged up about the topic of sugar? Because it adds a significant amount of calories to our diets without providing any benefit to our bodies. When we consume too many empty-calorie foods, our bodies don’t receive the nutrients they need and, therefore, continue to seek these nutrients by telling the brain to eat more food. This contributes to the paradox our country experiences of far too many people being overweight while also being undernourished.
What seems like a little sugar here and little more there, adds up to a whole lot of sugar in the average American diet. If we are going to make any progress in combating our obesity crisis, paying attention to sugar intake needs to be a priority. Here are steps you can take as an individual to reduce your intake:
1. Read ingredient statements. Sugar presents itself in an endless number of ways on packaged food ingredient statements, in both sweet and savory products. Did you know that tomato sauce, frozen entrees, canned soups and dressings often contain added sugar? To boot, many products contain multiple sources of sugar. Words that masquerade as sugar on ingredient statements include: brown sugar, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, galactose, molasses, honey, agave, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, turbinado, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and the list goes on.
2. Experiment with recipes. When making a recipe for a second or more time, experiment to determine if you like the recipe with less sugar.
3. Sweeten without adding sugar. Instead of sugar, add berries or bananas to cold cereals; dates, raisins and other dried fruits (without added sugar) to gluten-free oatmeal; and low-fat milk, vanilla or cinnamon to your coffee.
4. Make smarter choices. When making food purchases, compare ingredient statements and the sugar content between brands. This is particularly important for every day foods. When it is time for that special treat, go for the slice of cake without the icing, the coffee beverage without whipped cream, the piece of pie without ice cream.
Small changes can make a big difference. You are likely to be overwhelmed and, therefore, unsuccessful if you try to make all changes at once. Instead, focus on reducing sugar content of one everyday food per week. After just four weeks, you will have made a big impact on your sugar intake.
Rachel Begun, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She provides education, communications and consulting services to health organizations and the food industry. She also educates the public via speaking opportunities, online activities and writing for publications, including her own blog, The Gluten Free RD. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest via her website at www.rachelbegun.com.