Raising Cane

May 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

   Photo: John Clark

ADDED SUGARS—the myriad sweeteners that sneak into everything from ice cream to salad dressing—pile up in the diet of the average American to the tune of more than 95 pounds a year. And that's not counting the naturally occurring sugars in things like fruit and milk. Without taking sides in the fierce debate over the alleged links between a high-sugar diet and obesity and related diseases, let's say consuming too much sugar can mean too many empty calories, which get in the way of balanced nutrition. You're not going to eat that salad if you've filled up on sweetened yogurt. Even the USDA is giving more attention than it has in the past to the downside of excess sugar. So how much is too much? Try holding it to less than 10 percent of your total calories or, even better, to ten teaspoons daily. (A teaspoon equals four grams, or 16 calories.) This doesn't mean you have to give up chocolate cake—let's face it, the stuff tastes good. But don't let stealth sugar push your intake over the top.

Start by learning the vocabulary of sweet. High-fructose corn syrup? That's added sugar. Ditto beet juice, brown rice syrup, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextrose, and malt syrup. If reading labels is too daunting, just know a few easy alternatives. Flavored waters like Propel Fitness Water and Aquafina FlavorSplash can satisfy a craving with ten calories or less per serving. Salad dressings can be big sugar bombs, so make your own with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For breakfast, eat unsweetened cereals and yogurts.

A note to athletes: Yes, sports drinks, gels, and bars may contain a lot of sugar, but it's easily absorbed as fuel during exercise. It's when you're at rest that you've got to watch out.

Condiments, sandwich spreads, and marinades can contain one teaspoon or more of sugar in every two tablespoons. Use salsa, hummus, or this GUACAMOLE instead:

2 ripe avocados, mashed; ripe tomato, finely chopped; 4 scallions or 1 tbsp onion, finely chopped; 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce; 1 tbsp cilantro; 2 tbsp lime juice. Mix and season to taste; prevent discoloration by adding lime juice to the finished guacamole.

One scoop of ice cream holds seven teaspoons of sugar. Try a HOMEMADE SMOOTHIE instead:

1 cup skim milk; 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt; 1/2 large banana; 1/2 cup frozen berries; 1 handful of ice cubes. Mix in blender; makes about 12 ounces.

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