Too many Nova Scotians are overweight, and the province’s rates of fatty liver disease, cancer and diabetes are the highest in the country. One small change could make a big difference: Eating less sugar.
The more sugar we take in, the more insulin our bodies release. The insulin converts the excess sugar to triglycerides – that is, fat. And where does the fat go? Around our middles. And it doesn’t just sit there. Scientists and doctors now know that triglycerides cause inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, liver problems and cancer.
You’re probably thinking, “I don’t eat that much sugar.” But Canadians consume 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. That’s 100 grams of sugar, or 400 calories – three times amount recommended by most health organizations. We need to take back control.
The discrepancy between what we should be eating and what we are eating is largely due to food producers and marketing. Sugar is cheap, and it makes food tasty and appealing. Unfortunately, there is virtually no government regulation limiting the amount of sugar and sweetener used in food.
In fact, some of the worst culprits for hidden sugars are the supposedly healthy foods, such as boxed cereals, granola bars, yogurt and juice.
How can we do better?
Resist the impulse buy
Stores are designed to promote the impulse buy – that’s why chocolate bars are stacked beside the checkout counter at grocery and drug stores. Stick to buying what you came for: real food and medicine.
Watch out for hidden sugars
These simple suggestions will help you avoid hidden sugars.
- Avoid processed foods whenever possible
- Read labels, and don’t buy an item if the first or second ingredient listed is sugar, especially “glucose-fructose”
- Don’t buy foods with more than 12 grams of sugar per serving
- Don’t eat more than the recommended serving size
Save your sugar for dessert
If I start eating chocolate at work, I want it all day. Instead, I eat the lunch that I brought, and then enjoy a small portion of dessert with my family after supper to get my “fix.”
Cut down on sugar in your coffee or tea
Eat more good food
Vegetables, healthy fats and protein have more nutrients, less sugar and are more satisfying than processed foods. Vegetables are naturally lower in sugar than fruits. Healthy fats are important for our brains and are required to use fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Healthy fats and protein also slow down sugar absorption and keep us feeling full.
Rather than processed foods:
- Enjoy plain yogurt (not fat-free) with fresh fruit
- Eat eggs – only 80 calories, lots of protein, cheap and easy!
- Use olive oil, vinegars, garlic, spices to flavour dishes, rather than sugary bottled sauces
- Try almonds or walnuts rather than a granola bar
Start a new trend
Instead of cakes and cookies, take portions of corn chips and bean dip to sell at bake sales, or take a platter of veggies and dip to parties.
There’s still time to turn back from our epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and cancer, and the change starts with us. Many Nova Scotians are making changes and feeling better for it. This Nutrition Month, make a commitment to eating less sugar, and encourage others to do the same.
My wish for all Nova Scotians is a simple one: Eat (truly) well, live (truly) well!
Dr. Shauna Archibald is a family physician in Halifax. She is passionate about promoting disease prevention and management through healthy mindful lifestyle choices – eating well and being active. When she’s not in the office or delivering babies, you can find her in the kitchen or hiking/biking/swimming/cross-country skiing and trying to keep up with her husband and two growing boys.