They say that once something is raised to your awareness it is hard to let it slip back into the unconscious. Once you know something you can’t un-know it. After my 21-day experiment to eliminate added sugars from my diet, I was left feeling overwhelmed by the experience. Not only do I now look for sugar on the ingredients of everything I eat, I’m starting to fully internalize how difficult it would be to purge hidden sugar from your life on a more permanent basis. It would certainly mean a different approach to eating at home, but the prospect of eating when traveling or eating out at restaurants is daunting.Hidden sugar is systemic: it’s a way to make foods more cheaply and therefore those making food have an incentive to use a lot it. Until we reach a tipping point that the general public considers sugar something that makes food “toxic” it won’t be purged out of the food. People, for one thing, like the taste of foods with sugars in them and collectively we don’t make good choices when it comes to choosing things that are good for us. But if we take something like gluten or MSG as an example, there have been at their respective times a point when people started to be on the lookout for these items and over time we’ve seen more and more gluten-free products — and MSG is generally no longer used in fast-food cooking. We’ve seen something akin to this recently with high-fructose corn syrup; people are on the lookout for it. But sadly, I think food manufacturers are simply replacing high-fructose corn-syrup with other added sugars that haven’t been branded as “bad.”
Let’s not forget why this is important. There are three reasons: 1) sugar is likely addictive or at least seems to shape our behavior in that we want to eat more of it; 2) sugar packs more calories into smaller amounts of food, which leads us to eat more mass to fill our stomachs; and 3) sugar is quickly absorbed into our system, but doesn’t have a long-lasting effect, meaning we want to eat again sooner than we should. Just think of those tiny pastries at the Starbucks counter. Their sweet and sticky and pack 500 calories in a little square. They taste good going down, but you’ll be hungry again in an hour after eating them. This is what I would call the “snack trap.” You’ve “snacked” rather than eaten a meal. You likely didn’t get what you needed and you’ll be hungry again in an hour. Boo!
This feels like one of those things that could make you throw up your hands and say, ‘there’s just no way.’ But there are some things that we can do to keep this in our conscious awareness and hopefully make a dent into the sugars that are hiding in our food. I can at least offer five things I learned that we could all practice in our shopping and food choices.
1) Read the ingredients and ignore the marketing — There’s so much distraction happening on food packaging that is can be hard to spot the healthy foods from the pretenders. I was browsing the bread aisle and I picked up one of the healthiest looking breads last week. It said “100% Whole Wheat” on the front and then in big read letters said, “No High-Fructose Corn Syrup!” The second ingredient in the bread was sugar and it had the most sugar of any that I looked at that day. While the marketing claim was true, the statement was misleading in that it implies that the product has less sugar in it. In fact, it had more sugar than most of the breads, they just didn’t use high-fructose corn syrup. Turn the package around and make your choice from the ingredients list.
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