Do one thing: Watch those added sugars

Overhauling one’s diet can be overwhelming, what with every little nutritional nuance to keep tabs on. This week, instead of trying to ride herd over every aspect of your eating, focus on one: added sugars.

A study presented at the American Heart Association's recent Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions underscores what shouldn’t be surprising: added sugars contribute to weight gain. Data accumulated as part of the 27-year-long Minnesota Heart Survey, a surveillance study of adults ages 25 to 74 living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, showed a relationship between added sugars and body mass index. Seven surveys of the adults, ages 25 to 74, participating in the Minnesota Heart Survey were taken over its course, beginning in 1980. Here are the key findings:

  • Added sugars intake increased along with BMI levels in both men and women and in all age groups.
  • In the 2007-09 survey, the last conducted, men consumed about 15.3 percent of their daily calories from added sugars, representing a substantial 37.8 percent increase from 1980-82. (The American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of your daily discretionary calories be derived from added sugars.)
  • Among women, added sugars intake changed from 9.9 percent of total calories in 1980-82 to 13.4 percent of total calories in 2007-09.
    Women consumed less added sugars than men, while younger adults consumed more added sugars than older adults.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods during processing, preparation, or at the table (for types of added sugars, consult your U.S. Department of Agriculture, here). Reducing them can be relatively simple, since they must be included in the nutritional labeling required for most foods. While the amounts of added sugars aren’t specified, ingredients are listed in descending order, by weight (more on that here from our friends at the Harvard School of Public Health). Thus, if you pick up a bottle of ketchup, you’ll likely find that after the main ingredient of tomato products, you’ll find two or three different kinds of sugars. Note, too, that just because a bottle of ketchup may boast that it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup, it may make up for that absence with more sugar — and in fact may have more calories and calories from fat.

Tricky stuff, this checking for added sugars. But with a little diligence and help from the sources cited above, you can work this week to limit these intruders in your diet.

For more on assorted health concerns created by added sugars, here’s what the folks at the Mayo Clinic have to say.

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