#258 Sweet & Low-Cal

Tell a friend

Pour some sugar on me.

Def Leppard

6 Foods with Hidden Sugar

By Joe Wilkes

Load of SugarThe average American eats approximately 1,500 pounds of food every year. Of that, 160 pounds are primarily sugar. Of course, sugar is delicious, and I know I'm the happier for its existence, but of all the things we consume, it has the least nutritive value. In fact, except for the energy in its calories, there's not much to recommend about sugar. It's a prime source of empty calories, and for those of us who are trying to lose weight, sugar's the first thing we should start trimming from our diets. But here's the problem—despite our best intentions to remove excess sugar from our diet, the food industry has found more and more devious ways of slipping us the sweet stuff. Whether the food industry calls sugar by another name or adds it to foods we never thought would have needed it, our sweet tooth is constantly being bombarded. Fortunately, with stricter labeling laws, we have a fighting chance at cutting back on sugar.

Why does the food industry want to fill us so full of sugar?

Big GulpIt's basically the same as any other industry. For the oil industry to make more money, it needs us to use more of its product by driving more miles. The food industry needs us to use more of its product by eating more calories. The problem is that the American food industry is already producing around 3,900 calories per person per day, which is way more than we need. One solution to this surplus is to sell the food cheaply overseas, which the industry does. The other solution is for Americans to eat more calories. And sugar and its corn sweetener brethren are great calorie delivery systems, as they pack a huge caloric punch, without causing much satiety, or feeling of fullness. (Check out Steve Edwards' "Sugar vs. Fat" article for more about why sugar is the world-champion fattener.) Most people would probably stop eating steak after they reached 1,000 calories, because they'd be stuffed, but after you drank 1,000 calories from your Big Gulp cup, there's still room for dinner. The other reason the industry pushes sugar so hard is that it's cheap to produce, and the cheaper the calorie, the larger the profit margin.

Sugar in labels—hiding in plain sight.

Multiple Loads of SugarOne of the best ways to disguise the amount of sugar in a product is something the government already requires—printing the information in grams. Most Americans only have the foggiest idea of how much a gram is, because we're unaccustomed to the metric system. So when we pick up a can of soda that contains 40 grams of sugar, we pretty much shrug our shoulders and pop the top. And that attitude is all right with the soda industry! But what if the label said that it contained over 10 teaspoons of sugar? If you saw someone ladling 10 teaspoons of sugar into their morning coffee, you'd think they were crazy, but that's how much people consume in a typical 12-ounce can. In a 64-ounce fountain drink that you'd get at a movie theater or a convenience store, you get over 53 teaspoons of sugar—almost two cups! Naturally, people would probably think twice if the nutritional information on products was given in measurements that were meaningful to them. But until our heavily food industry-subsidized government decides to change its policy, it's a metric world, we just live in it. But we can take note that four grams equals one teaspoon. So when you check out the label, divide the grams of sugar by four, and that's how many teaspoons you're consuming.

Sugar, by any other name, would taste just as sweet.

Mad ScientistAnother strategy the sugar pushers use to get us to consume more calories is to rename the offending ingredient. We know to stay away from sugar, but how about molasses, honey, sorghum, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, sucrose, galactose, maltose, or concentrated juices like grape or apple? Another path to profit that the food industry has discovered is that instead of harvesting relatively more expensive sugar cane and beets, the industry can produce sweeteners in a laboratory more cheaply and with just as many calories as beet and cane sugar. And with some sweeteners, especially the popular high fructose corn syrup, it is believed that your body will be less likely to reach satiety than with sugar, so you can consume more. Mo' calories, mo' money. Another advantage to these doses of -oses is that, aside from the fact that many people won't guess they're just different forms of sugar, they can be spread out in the ingredient list required by law, so that it won't be as obvious that what you're consuming is pretty much all sugar. When you look at a list of ingredients on a product, the manufacturer is required to list them in order of amount, from highest to lowest. So they can bury a quarter cup of fructose, a quarter cup of sucrose, a quarter cup of dextrose, and a quarter cup of corn syrup in the middle of the list, so you won't be as likely to notice that when you add them all up, the main ingredient in the product is sugar.

Hide and seek. You're it.

Hamburger BunSo, if you're like me, you may have sworn off soda except for special occasions, and turned the candy bowl into an unsalted-almond bowl. No more sugar, no more problems. Except for this problem—the food industry has cleverly snuck its sugars and corn syrups into products where we never would have thought to look for sugar. It's good for the manufacturer. It jacks up the calorie load, can enhance the product's appearance (high-fructose corn syrup gives hamburger buns their golden glow), and can keep our sugar jones simmering at a low boil, in case we ever decide to go back to the real thing. Here are some types of products whose labels could bear more scrutiny.

  1. Spaghetti sauce. A half cup of store-bought sauce can contain as many as three teaspoons of corn syrup or sugar. While some of the naturally occurring sugar in tomatoes and other vegetables will show up on the nutrition label, most of the sugar is added. Look for brands that don't include sugar or its aliases or make your own from fresh or canned tomatoes.

  2. KetchupKetchup. Ketchup can be 20 percent sugar or more. Not to mention that you'll get 7 percent of your daily sodium allowance in one tablespoon. Look for low-salt, no-sugar brands, or make your own, using pureed carrots to add flavor and texture to the tomatoes.

  3. Reduced-fat cookies. Most brands of cookies now offer a reduced-fat version of their product. Nabisco even offers its own line of low-fat treats, Snackwells. But while you're patting yourself on the back for choosing the low-fat option, check the label. The sneaky food manufacturers did take out the fat, but they replaced it with, you guessed it, sugar. Many times, the reduced-fat cookie is only slightly less caloric than the one you want to eat. And because there's no fat to make you feel full, you'll be tempted to eat more "guilt-free" cookies. And just because there's less fat, it doesn't mean you'll be less fat. Fat doesn't make you fat. Calories make you fat.

  4. Salad DressingLow-fat salad dressing. Like the cookies, manufacturers have taken the fat out of the dressing, but they've added extra salt and sugar to make up for it. Check the label to make sure you're not replacing heart-healthy olive oil with diabetes-causing sugar—because that's not really a "healthy choice." Your best bet? Make your own vinaigrettes using a small amount of olive oil, a tasty gourmet vinegar or fresh lemon juice, and some fresh herbs.

  5. Bread. Most processed breads, especially white hamburger and hot dog buns, can contain a good bit of sugar or corn syrup. That's what gives them the golden-brown crust. As always, check the ingredient label, and consider getting your bread at a real bakery or a farmers' market—it's the best idea since, well, you know.

  6. Fast FoodFast food. Needless to say, fast food is generally not good for you. But even if you're staying away from the sodas and the shakes, everything from the burgers to the fries to the salads is a potential place to hide sugar. Check out the ingredients carefully at your favorite restaurant. You may be getting more than you bargained for.

Joe Wilkes If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Just Eat This: A Diet for Weight Loss

By Steve Edwards

MeasureThe initial stages of a weight loss program are the most difficult. Since I eat fairly healthy most of the time, my first step is to enact a few rules that still allow me to eat but that point my eating in the direction I want it to be going. As long as you're exercising, you don't need to vastly reduce your calories unless you're on some type of time-induced crash program. Slow and steady is generally more doable, more fun, and healthier.

For all of my diet programs I follow the same general guidelines, so make sure to read Just Eat This to learn about them.

Steve's diet for weight loss in the initial stages

Sports DrinkIn my world, it's always easier to add exercise than to take food away, so when I need to shed some weight I begin each day with a 30-minute to three-hour cardio workout. It's usually biking or running but can be something like yoga. The point is to enhance fat mobilization—your body's ability to burn stored fat. I always do this workout on an empty stomach, but for anything over an hour and a half, I'll begin consuming a sports drink that is mainly carbs along with some protein (4:1 ratio) after 30 minutes of exercise. I make sure to drink water all day long. I drink a glass when I wake up and keep going. Most people are chronically dehydrated.

My supplement regimen varies depending on the type of training I'm doing. The harder I train, the more supplements I take. The only constants are vitamins and an omega supplement, usually fish oil. Beyond that, it varies from nothing when I'm in a maintenance cycle to packs of stuff every few hours when I'm doing ultra stuff.

I also don't eat the same things every day. This is just an example of the types of foods and the timing.

P90X Peak Recovery FormulaMorning: Post-workout snack—this is approximately 4 parts carbs to 1 part protein with a little fat. I tend to try making this more natural, like a hemp-based shake, but P90X® Peak Recovery Formula would also work fine. However, if I'm not working out too hard and don't need maximum glycogen replenishment, I'll opt for a more traditional breakfast that follows an approximate 4:1 ratio. This is generally a bowl of whole grain cereal with a piece of fruit. It will absorb slower than the recovery drink, but if my glycogen stores aren't completely drained, that's okay.

A little while later: Coffee, black.

Morning snack: Nothing, but I usually advise eating a snack in this slot, like a piece of fruit or a protein shake. More on this later.

Lunch: Whole-bean and rice burrito with loads of salsa made from all-natural ingredients. I use a lot of salsa, probably 4 ounces for a 12 to 16-ounce burrito.

Note: Lunch might be late. I go for long periods in the morning without eating. As a writer, I work on momentum and don't like to be interrupted when I'm in the zone. My body works well for long periods without food, a tactic that certainly doesn't work for many people.

P90X Protein BarsAfternoon snack: I do my hard training in the afternoon when I can. If it's long training, then I'll eat during it (a bar of some kind). If it's short, I'll just eat afterward. That meal is another post-exercise drink. I tend to use Recovery Formula after the harder workout because it has sugar and works faster.

An hour or two later, dinner: Some type of lean meat, fish, or high-protein veggie thing (like a burrito), with some veggies and a salad. When I'm trying to lose weight and training, I give myself what I call "all-you-can-eat veggies." No dressing, just veggies. But I can use balsamic vinaigrette on my salad and dip the veggies in whole-grain mustard.

Glass of WineDessert: A beer or glass of red wine. I'm not much of a dessert person but I will eat it on occasion. While trying to lose weight, I'd rather have a drink, which helps me relax, which isn't always easy when you are undereating and training hard.

Late night snack: Herbal tea.

Questions you might be asking yourself

Is this enough calories? I didn't give amounts of food, but that varies based on feeling. Especially when training, my body tells me when it's hungry. I'll feed it, but when losing weight I try never feeling full. I try following a "leave the table when you're 80 percent full" rule.

Scaled FoodIs it too many calories? The only time I get very tight with regards to calories is when I have a fair amount of weight to lose. Usually, I'm within 10 pounds of my goal. If it's more, I'll start on feeling and then restrict calories for up to three or four weeks. I don't like to restrict calories longer than this because it can hinder my metabolism. And I always zigzag my calories so that I don't go into "starvation mode."

Is it too many carbs? It's actually low on carbs for the amount of exercise I'm doing. When I'm really cranking along, I'll eat triple the carbs and triple the calories. This is my version of a low-carb diet.

Drinking WaterDo you drink with your meals? I try not to. Maybe a few sips of water or wine. But drinking with food interferes with the digestive process and should be minimized. I'll often drink a glass of water a bit before a meal. This helps fill my stomach so that I'm less hungry and I rarely feel the need to "wash down" my meal.

How long do you do it? Like I said, I'm usually within that last hurrah or my target weight. This means that I usually don't have to stay strict for more than a few weeks at a time. More than a month on a diet like this and my body fat percentage begins to get dangerously low.

Next time, we'll look at what I eat when I want to maintain my weight.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Test Your Sugar IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. Which has more calories, brown sugar or white sugar? White sugar actually has more calories than brown sugar. But not much more, only about two calories an ounce. Traditional brown sugar almost always comes from the sugar beet. The extracted beet sugar is mixed with molasses (the byproduct of the sugar extraction), which is what gives brown sugar its distinct color and flavor. Cane sugar is light brown in its natural state.

  2. Hyperactive KidsHow much sugar typically makes kids hyperactive? Amazingly, none. Science has yet to establish any conclusive link between sugar and increases in hyperactivity in children. It is suspected that sugar may be taking a bad rap for caffeine, which, along with sugar, is present in many sodas and chocolaty snacks, and has been proven to hype up the rugrats.

  3. How is powdered sugar, or confectioner's sugar, made? Powdered sugar is ground 10 times as fine as regular sugar and mixed with a small amount of corn starch to prevent caking. So if you're ever cooking at home and run out of powdered sugar, just grind up some regular sugar in a blender with a pinch of corn starch.

  4. Tapping the Maple TreeHow many gallons of maple sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup? It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. But the syrup isn't too bad of a sweetener. As maple sugar, it contains seven fewer calories per ounce than sugar, but contains many more essential minerals. Not quite a health food, but better than the white stuff.

  5. Who played Sugar Kane in the 1959 film Some Like It Hot? Marilyn Monroe.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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