Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hidden Sugar, Beware!

Recently, my husband and I were on the road and we stopped at McDonalds for a break and a quick snack. Looking over the menu, I chose the Apple & Walnut Salad, which I believed would be a healthy snack. The salad consists of eight fresh apple wedges with skin, about one tablespoon of walnuts and approximately ¼ cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt. Sounds healthy, right? The total carbs are 31, but the most astonishing fact is that the sugar grams are 25! This is a great example of hidden sugars in a product normally thought of as healthy. When you break this salad down by item, it's difficult to understand why the sugar grams are so high. An apple is approximately 13.9 carbohydrate and 10.5 grams of fructose (the natural sugar found in fruit). It turns out the walnuts in the salad are "candied" which means they are coated with about a ¾ teaspoon of sugar, which is 3 grams of carb, all sugar. That leaves 11.5 grams of sugar in the ¼ cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt! Who would have guessed it would contain so much in such a small serving? But, that's my point. Eating this seemingly healthy snack of apples, walnuts and low-fat yogurt was the equivalent of eating approximately 7 miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, when you compare grams of sugar per serving! On my journey with diabetes, I have discovered there is hidden sugar in the most unlikely food products and I need to be aware of exactly what I'm eating so I can accurately evaluate why my blood glucose numbers can fluctuate so wildly in a day or over time.

For comparison, later that day, I just happen to see boxes of both Honey Nut Cherrios and Captain Crunch with Crunchberries in the cabinet of my daughter's dorm room and looked at the nutritional labels. I was amazed to discover that ¾ cup of Honey Nut Cheerios is 22 carbs and 9 grams sugar and the Captain Crunch cereal contained 12 grams of sugar per same size serving. Don't misunderstand me here, because I am not suggesting that you substitute an apple with a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Instead, I'm trying to further illustrate how important it is to read the nutritional label of the foods you are eating and learn more about how the type of carbohydrate effects your BG.

In the case of refined sugar (white granulated table sugar), it is sucrose and will immediately raise your BG as soon you swallow it. That's why a person with diabetes who is experiencing a blood sugar low reaches for a piece of hard candy or drinks juice. It gives them the sudden needed spike to bring it up and out of the dangerous low level that could lead to dizziness, fainting or coma. But sugar does other things in the body that may lead to digestive disruption causing a person to not extract nutrients effectively from their food, it feeds yeast which may lead to an overgrowth and can be the source of sluggish digestion, bloating and gas. Glucose is the quickest source of energy, but if it is not used immediately through normal body function or exercise, it very quickly is stored as fat. Although we love it and have overwhelming cravings for it, too much sugar is not good for our bodies, whether you're a diabetic or not. In a recent report put out by the American Heart Association, it is recommended for optimum health that it be limited each day to 25 grams (5 teaspoons) of added sugar for women and no more than 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. To read a short, but informative article about this subject, check out this link: http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/only-online/health-hold-sugar.

I learned this the hard way. I grew up regularly eating high carb and fatty foods and sugar was added to many dishes you would never suspect. For example, I loved my grandmother's cooked cabbage. I would request it when I spent the night with her. I assumed because it was a vegetable, it was completely healthy. It wasn't until I was putting together a family cookbook after she passed away that I discovered that the reason it was so delicious was because she made it with bacon grease and added sugar! She was just cooking in the loving way she was taught and was common for the time, so I certainly don't blame her or anyone in my past for my current health problems, but it has been a long and difficult road to overcome and drastically change my lifelong eating habits that are the root cause of my diabetes. After all, T2 diabetes is a digestive disease, so what I eat will either aid in healing my body from within or cause more damage. The choice is mine and mine alone. Also, as a result of lessons learned through the management of my illness, I am doing what I can to provide better nutrition and an example of healthy living to my daughter so she might avoid the same difficult health issues in her adult life.

If you want to learn more about how diet can impact your health, I highly recommend the book The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, M.A. Also, the BBC television program You Are What You Eat hosted by Gillian McKeith vividly illustrates how the food one eats can adversely or positively effect one's health and quality of life.

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