As we introduced in week 1 of the challenge, women should be keeping their sugar intake to less than 25 grams a day, men less than 36 grams. That equates to 6 teaspoons and 9 teaspoons, respectively. Currently, however, we are averaging around 71 grams or 17 teaspoons each day! In fact, we consume around 57 pounds of added sugar each year! So how can we get this under control? Well, it’s important to first understand some facts about sugar.
There are two types of sugar: naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. As you can probably guess, naturally occurring sugar is found in foods like fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugar is commonly in our food as regular table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (a mix of fructose and glucose). Often times fruit gets a bad rap because of it’s natural occurring sugar. However, here’s some ‘food’ for thought: The sugar in one 12-oz soda is as much as in 1 orange + 16 strawberries + 2 plums. So you have to consume a great deal more natural sugar in fruits than added sugar in other foods to equal the same amounts. So during this challenge, it’s more important to focus on the amount of added sugar you are consuming rather than the natural sugar. The good news is now food nutrition labels are required to included the amount of added sugar in their products, so you can now be a smart shopper!
For sodium, both men and women should keep their sodium intake to less than 2300 mg with the ideal intake being no more than 1,500 mg. However, the average American typically takes in 3,400 mg each day. It is important to note that some sodium is okay, as your body needs some sodium to function properly because it: 1) Helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body; 2) Helps transmit nerve impulses; 3) Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. The issue is, as with everything, when we consume too much.
If you have a sweet tooth, you know that sugar cravings can be strong. In fact, research has shown that, for some people, eating sugar produces characteristics of craving and withdrawal, along with chemical changes in the brain’s reward center. Scientists have shown sugar causes changes in peoples’ brains similar to those in people addicted to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. These changes are linked to a heightened craving for more sugar.
The problem with this? Besides the increase risk of cavities, weight gain, and poor nutrition, consuming too much added sugar over long periods of time also can affect the natural balance of hormones that drive critical functions in the body. Eating sugar increases levels of glucose in the bloodstream, which leads the pancreas to release insulin. Higher levels of insulin, in turn, cause the body to store more food calories as fat. Insulin also affects a hormone called leptin, which is our natural appetite suppressant that tells our brains we are full and can stop eating. Imbalanced insulin levels has been linked to a condition called leptin resistance, in which the brain no longer “hears” the message to stop eating, thus promoting weight gain and obesity.
Salt can lead to issues since sodium is linked to high blood pressure, which causes damage to your blood vessels and arteries when chronically elevated. In turn, this increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. Therefore, if you have high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease, it is advised to keep your sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day.
As with most things, both sugar and sodium can have a place in your diet. However, as with everything, moderation is key. Beyond that, however, here are some other steps to take.
Food manufacturers have become savvy and started to omit the words ‘sugar’ and ‘salt’ in their ingredients list. However, that doesn’t mean they are sugar- or sodium-free. Here are some other ingredients to keep an eye out for:
Why It’s Important: Controlling our cravings- instead of them controlling us- is an important part of losing weight and maintaining it. This week we will focus on controlling them when it comes to sugar and salt.
Your Challenge: As you track your food this week, aim to keep your added sugar amount to less than 25 grams a day and your sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day.