By Debra Westgate-Silva
Many of us have a sweet tooth — there’s a biological reason for it. However, too much sugar in the diet can sabotage our attempts to eat healthfully.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more added sugars than half your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, this means no more than 100 calories per day, the equivalent of approximately six teaspoons of sugar, and 150 calories for men, the equivalent of nine teaspoons.
The truth though, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, is that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Sugar is an ingredient in many of our convenience foods, including beverages, ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, granola bars and many other food products.
Let’s look at an example:
• With breakfast, a woman puts two packets of sugar in her coffee (two teaspoons of sugar).
• She also grabs an oatmeal granola bar, which contains 12 grams of sugar (three teaspoons).
• For lunch, she tops her salad with two tablespoons of a popular bottled salad dressing (four grams of sugar, another teaspoon).
• While eating what appears to be good choices, this woman has met her sugar limit before lunch is over. • Here’s another example.
• This person has a quick snack of a protein bar (25 grams of sugar) and a can of soda (41 grams). That’s 66 grams of sugar or 16.5 teaspoons of sugar, almost three times the woman’s daily limit and almost double the man’s.
Why is too much sugar a poor health choice? Aside from empty calories, blood sugar spikes, diabetes and a whole host of other related diseases, sugar may be sabotaging our efforts to eat healthfully.
Under normal conditions, when we eat a salad, our taste buds think it tastes good. When we eat something with sugar and fat, like ice cream, our taste buds think it’s really good. Our bodies are wired to like the sugar and fat. They mean survival: the sugar gives us instant energy, and the fat can be stored for leaner times
The problem is our taste buds easily become accustomed to sugar. Brain images show that when we eat sugar, the same parts of our brains light up as would when people are addicted to heroin and other drugs. It floods our system with dopamine, a feel-good chemical, and convinces our nervous system that it’s in our best interest to have more. As with addictive drugs, our bodies get used to them; we need more to get the same effect.
This wreaks havoc on our taste buds. When we become accustomed to too much sugar in our diet, that becomes our idea of normal. Now the ice cream tastes good, instead of really good; we need something with even more sugar for our taste buds to think it’s really good. And the salad? That has sunk to a “below normal” status on the taste bud receptor scale. Sugar has desensitized our taste buds.
What can we do?
To get salad or produce or other wholesome, natural foods — the foods that most benefit us — to taste good again, we need to resensitize our taste buds. We do this by reducing, or eliminating, added sugar in our diet. The more we get rid of added sugars, the better whole foods will taste again.
There are a couple of ways to begin to do this:
• Avoid sugary soft drinks and juices.
• Avoid processed, prepared foods.
• Cook and eat more whole foods.
• Have healthy snacks ready and accessible (e.g., almonds, a tray of cut veggies)
• Have a plan: Make a plan for your meals for the week and shop with a list.
Luckily, it doesn’t take too long to re-acclimate our taste buds. Reducing sugar can help us stay on track with healthful eating — and enjoy it more.
Deb Westgate-Silva is a personal chef and blogger. A graduate of Johnson & Wales culinary arts program, she is personal chef/owner of Dinner Thyme Personal Chef Service, serving RI and nearby Massachusetts. She shares many healthy recipes on her blog What’s Cooking at Dinner Thyme [http://www.whatscookingatdinnerthyme. com]. She can be reached at [email protected]