When it comes to sugar, what you don’t know can hurt you. Here are three myths that too many people believe—and what the real deal is.
MYTH #1: Just read the label
THE REALITY: Labels benefit the manufacturer, not you.
By law, most foods (with the exception of fruits, veggies, and prepared foods) come with a label that lists their ingredients and nutritional stats. In theory, the labels should make sugar pretty easy to find. In reality, though, much of the sweet stuff is “hidden” sugar, buried in the ingredients list and hidden in a pile of technical terms no layman could easily identify. Confused by the ingredients list, your next stop may be the nutrition “facts” list. There you’ll find a very rough estimate of how much sugar is contained in a portion. Where it gets tricky, though, is with portion size: By listing abnormally small portion sizes, the manufacturers can make the sugar counts appear less fearsome, fooling you into thinking you’re eating less sugar. So, that quarter-cup of tomato sauce (who has ever eaten a quarter-cup of tomato sauce?) with 8 grams of sugar will more likely wind up being closer to 20 grams by meal’s end. It gets even worse when the sauce is poured over pasta, which is a simple starch that quickly breaks down to glucose in the blood—in short, even more sugar.
BOTTOM LINE: Take every label with a huge grain of salt, and know what your average portion size looks like on the plate—chances are, yours will be considerably larger than the manufacturer’s. But the absolute best way to avoid hidden sugar? Stick to a whole-foods-based diet and kick processed foods—aka, anything with a nutrition label—to the curb.
MYTH #2: Moderation Is Key
THE REALITY: Artificial sweeteners make cravings worse!
When patients are overly attached to their artificial sweeteners, it’s often a challenge getting them to part with those sweet little packets. They think it cruel and unusual punishment, and in the early stages of a sweet stuff breakup, it can be challenging. Trouble is, sweet begets sweets. Artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungry and actually eat more—and they dull our taste for naturally sweet foods. It’s the definition of the vicious circle. Add to that, the fact that they don’t help with weight loss and don’t taste good either. So dumping the stuff once and for all seems like the sanest route.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The less sweetness the better. If you eliminate all types of artificial sweeteners from your life, you’ll help liberate your body from the tyranny of sugar in its many forms. In their place, swap in naturally sweet-tasting spices like cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cardamom, caraway, and nutmeg to support health with tasty, medicinal effects. Get used to drinking your coffee and tea without added sweeteners. If you’re going to indulge, try whole leaf, raw stevia — a small amount packs a big punch.
MYTH #3: Managing diabetes is all about going on a low-fat diet
THE REALITY: It’s really about sugar and carbs – particularly the processed ones
The government is still peddling the low-fat diet as the best defense against high blood sugar and diabetes. Boy, are they out to lunch! The real culprits are carbs, in particular the ones that come in the concentrated form of added sugar or in grain-based processed foods, like bread and pasta, that readily break down to sugar in the system. While losing weight is an excellent way to fight back against high blood sugar, being normal weight doesn’t mean you have a blank check to consume as much sugar and as many carb-rich foods as you like. A recent crunching of government health statistics found that 1 in 5 American adults of normal weight were pre-diabetic, that is, had elevated blood sugar. That’s the classic “skinny fat” syndrome. Even though these adults aren’t eating too many calories, their systems can’t handle the amount of sugar and carbs hiding in plain sight on their plates.
BOTTOM LINE: To keep blood sugar in check, cut carbs to the bone (especially the fast-digesting ones), and lose the added sugar. Get moving, keep moving, and drop the excess weight to keep metabolism humming and protect against Type 2 diabetes. And if you’ve crossed the diabetes line, know that you can cross back to the healthy side by following the same low carb diet.