In February, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued its five-year review of scientific nutrition and chronic illness evidence to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The committee zeroed in on overconsumption of refined grains and sugars as a huge dietary problem, contributing to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and complications in pregnancy. In particular, the committee recommended that “to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, individuals are encouraged to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and lower in red and processed meats, high-fat dairy, refined grains, and sweets/sugar sweetened beverages.” The committee recommended a maximum of 10% caloric intake from refined grains and added sugars as a means to reduce risk of chronic illness.
10% is a surprisingly small percentage of one’s diet, and might seem an intimidating goal to meet. However, a few shifts in diet can go a long way towards meeting that goal.
We’ve compiled a handful of strategies for those interested in cutting their intake of processed grains and refined sugars as a means to better health. They include:
Make recipes from scratch – Using fresh produce allows you to avoid sugars and sodium that are often used in canning and freezing. Using whole or multigrain flour, buckwheat flour, or corn flour in place of baking mixes can help reduce intake of “hidden” sugars. Using incrementally less table or confectioner sugar in a recipe really doesn’t affect the outcome beyond the intensity of the sweetness.
Capitalize on “free” sugars – “Free” sugar is the sugar that is naturally present in a food (think an apple or peas). Avoid added sugars in canned foods – for example, there is no earthly reason that a good pear needs to be dumped into syrup to be tasty.
Choose your grains wisely – The body needs carbohydrates, and the minerals and fiber that grains deliver. Whole grains are among the most digestible of foods, and can promote regularity as the body is adapting to a decrease in sugar intake. Grains in the form of cereal make up the backbone of breakfast for many Americans. if you’re going to keep up this tradition, go for old-fashioned “grownup” cereal, such as plain shredded wheat, bran, corn, rice, or oat flake cereals. Skip any cereal with kids as a target market and with the words “frosted,” or “honey” or the like in the name on the box.
Be wary of processed meats – “Sugar cured,” “honey cured,” and even some commercially smoked meat products can be loaded with sugar that goes deeper than a glaze; this includes when those meats are cut at the counter. Examine the labels on vacuum-packed pork and poultry products carefully. Ask the meat cutter if there are uncured and low-sodium choices available. Bottled barbecue sauces can be loaded with molasses, sugary syrups, and processed tomatoes high in sugar, same for bottled marinades and packages of marinade mix. Look at the nutrition label on the bottle or envelope. You may be surprised.
Low-fat foods aren’t always healthy foods – Be aware that packers of reduced-fat content food products, including broths and condensed soups, sometimes boost sugar and salt content to keep them from tasting less bland than their regular products. What you’ve gained in trimming fat might be lost in added sugar.
Go for the teaspoon, not the tablespoon – You can acclimate yourself to less sweetness in recipes and your coffee or tea. Ease up a little each time and enjoy the magic trick of making your sweet tooth disappear.
Fruit – it’s a dessert – Fresh fruit sugar is fructose, which delivers less of a glycemic load than refined white or brown cane sugar. An apple, banana, a pear, or some grapes, are far better than a baked good, although you will have to watch your carb count.
What is your favorite tip for cutting sugar and refined grain consumption? Send it it our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.