STILLWATER, Okla. – Sugar is not the enemy. But, when it comes to eating healthy and watching the waistline, sugary foods should take a back seat to options with more nutrients and less calories.
Of course, the recommendation does not mean kissing the dessert plate goodbye forever, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. But, it does mean devoting more of our daily food budget to healthier alternatives such as fruits, vegetables and grains.
“Everyone enjoys a sweet treat every once in awhile, and that’s fine,” she said. “But, over the long haul, foods and beverages with little or no added sugar are better options for balancing calories and getting the essential nutrients and fiber our bodies need for good health.”
While we might be tempted to ignore the guidelines calling for us to exchange our sodas, energy drinks, candy and other sweets for water, unsweetened drinks and low- or no-sugar-added versions of desserts, there is good reason to pay attention to the advice.
There are actually many types of sugar. Sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar, is probably the kind most familiar to members of the health-conscious set. Evidence suggests no matter what the type of sugar you consume, it is all the same to the body – each gram counts for about 4 calories, just like proteins and other complex carbohydrates.
However, a big part of successfully managing a healthy weight and lifestyle includes closely monitoring the ways you spend those calories. Hermann said the goal most days should be to invest them in healthier selections such as fruit and dairy products, which naturally contain simple sugars. Vegetables and grains, along with fruit, also are strong sources of complex carbohydrates, which are broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the body.
“Fruits, vegetables and grains give us good nutritional bang for the calorie and nutrient buck,” she said. “These foods tend to be nutrient dense. In other words, many are low in fat, higher in fiber and water, and low in calories.”
Just the opposite is often true of foods high in added sugar, which is frequently calorie rich, and sometimes high in fat, but rarely nutrient dense.
“The more added sugar and solid fats you eat, the less room you have for nutrient-dense foods, while staying within your calorie range,” she said. “For most people, the margin is very slim, only about 5 percent to 15 percent of the daily calorie budget. So, in a 2,000 calorie diet, there is only room for about 260 calories from added sugars and solid fats.”
Making room for more nutrient-rich selections could have some additional benefits. Shifting toward consuming more fruits and vegetables could help lower the risk of many chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Some fruits and vegetables also may offer a layer of protection against certain types of cancer.
Hermann said the first step to building a healthy plate is to check out the USDA Daily Food Plan and www.Choosemyplate.gov. There you will find recommendations on what and how much to eat.
Beyond that, she stressed leaning toward picking the most nutrient-dense options in each food group, and limiting how much added sugar and solid fat you use when cooking or eating.
“Be sure to trim the fat from cuts of meat, and use less butter, margarine and sugar,” she said. “On those every-once-in-awhile occasions when you do decide to indulge, just try to limit your portion size, and really enjoy the treat.”
Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.
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