Ohhh sugar! It seems to be a common staple at any firehouse, especially around the holidays- donuts on the table, cookies on the counter and ice cream in the fridge. But because its there doesn’t mean you should constantly indulge. It’s been pretty well documented that sugar can have a harmful effect on the your health (click here for a good article on that). Research has linked this sweet substance to obesity, heart disease, liver disease, higher rates of cancer, tooth decay along with other problems. Sugar also has an addictive quality that makes it a hard “habit” to break.
According to data from the U.S. in 2008, on average, people are consuming over 60 pounds (28 kg) of added sugar per year and this does not even include fruit juices. In 2008 the average intake was 76.7 grams per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories!
How much sugar should we be eating?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women limit added sugar intake to 24 grams (the equivalent of 6 teaspoons) per day, and total sugar (natural and added) to about 48 grams per day. It recommends that men limit added sugars to 36 grams (the equivalent of 9 teaspoons) per day, and total sugar to about 72 grams per day.
Added Sugars vs Natural Sugars
It is very important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables. It’s the added sugar that’s problematic. Not the natural sugar in fruit, which has fiber to slow absorption. Added sugars are added to food to help them taste better. The most common added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup that you find in sweets, chocolate, cakes, and some fizzy and juice drinks. Sometimes sugar can be disguised with a different name. Read the nutritional information on food labels to see how much sugar the food contains. In the ingredients list, sugar added to food may be called:
- Agave nector
- High fructose corn syrup
- Modified corn syrup
- Corn syrup
- Hydrolyzed starch
- Invert sugar
The nearer the beginning of the ingredient list the sugar is, the more sugar the product contains.
What is “high” in sugar
Look at the ingredients list for sugar. Try to figure out how many grams of sugar the product contains for every 100g if a food has:
- More than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g, the food is high
- 5g of total sugars or less per 100g is considered low
- If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, that’s a medium level of sugars.
How to “reduce” your sugar intake
It may be difficult (at first) to reduce your sugar intake but after you do, I guarantee you will notice a big difference in the way you feel. Here are some ways to reduce your sugar:
Tips to Reduce Your Sugar Intake
- This sounds obvious but the first and best thing you can do is make some conscious efforts to just eat less sugar: reduce cakes, cookies, sugary cereals, desserts, etc.
- Find the hidden sugars. Read labels, sugar is hidden and it often replaces fat in low-fat/fat-free foods and you’ll find it in things that can really be made from just a few ingredients like nut butters, breads and salad dressings. Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the low-sugar version.
- Eat whole, read foods. If you have a sweet tooth, try satisfying your cravings with sweet foods like fruit. When you do eat packaged foods, check the ingredient list and know the various names for sugar so you can spot it in the foods you’re eating. Remember that low fat/fat-free often means high sugar.
- Instead of sugary, fizzy drinks and juice drinks (soda), go for water or unsweetened fruit juice (remember to dilute fruit juices for children to further reduce the sugar). If you take sugar in hot drinks or add it to cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether!
- Reduce desserts either in frequency or amounts. Its alright to indulge every once in a while, try to mind portion sizes when you do.
Personally, I’ve been trying to reduce sugars to the recommended amounts. Its was difficult at first, but after a couple of days that sugar “craving” subsided and I feel great. If we want to make a positive impact in the fire service, we have to find ways to reduce sugars in the firehouse. I challenge you (and your department) to find ways to reduce sugars….
Hope these tips help you get and stay “Fit for Duty.”
Stay safe and healthy,