Monday, February 15, 2010

Short and Sweet

In keeping with the Valentine's spirit, and because I got asked this question last week, today's post is all about sweet stuff... sugar, honey, molasses, and yes, the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Despite its recent bad press, high fructose corn syrup is not the devil. Yes, there are no love songs about it. No, we do not call our loved ones "HFCS-pie" or "Corn Syrup Bunny."

But nutritionally speaking, sugar is sugar is sugar. Sweet stuff should be eaten in moderation no matter what form it takes. For example, there's been a lot of buzz lately about soft drinks replacing HFCS with cane sugar. Guess what? Soft drinks are still high-calorie, nutritionally empty food choices. So skip the hype. (And the soft drinks.)

High fructose corn syrup got a bad rap because it has been unnecessarily added to many foods we do not consider sweet treats, such as ketchup, salad dressings, bread, or yogurts. The added sugars make these foods less nutritious, but tastier. But don't be fooled! It's the ADDED SUGARS that make these foods less nutritious-- not the TYPE of sugar in them. Below is a list of common sweeteners and calories:

White sugar, 1 tsp = 16 calories
Brown sugar, 1 tsp = 17 calories
Honey, 1 tsp = 21 calories
Blackstrap molasses, 1 tsp = 16 calories
High Fructose Corn Syrup, 1 tsp = 17 calories

Seeing a trend? There's not much difference.

So what to do amid a sugar-crazy world? It seems like everything we eat today contains added sugars!

First, use common sense. Keep your obvious sugar intake in moderation. That means less soft drinks, sweet coffee-latte-chinos, candies, gimmicky breakfast cereals, pastries, and other treats. If it tastes like a dessert, it probably is one.

Second, watch out for less obvious sugars in your diet, too. Look at food labels and search ingredient lists for added sweeteners, and choose foods with less. Good swaps to start with include plain yogurt instead of flavored, natural nut butters over jarred ones, and oil and vinegar based salad dressings you can mix at home instead of buying bottled ones.

Still craving some sugar? Try a little from a loved one instead! Happy Valentine's Day, all!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's a % DV?

Yesterday, I got a question from someone following a low sodium diet. As anyone who has tried to reduce their sodium intake knows, this is not easy! Sodium is sneaky, and can be found in lots of packaged foods we don't assume are "salty" -- like breakfast cereal, breads, frozen dinners, and dairy foods.

Further, reading labels to determine just how much salt we are eating can be tricky. Food labels list both the grams (or milligrams) and the "% DV" of certain nutrients. "% DV" stands for the "percentage daily value", a number the government has determined is the proper amount an average person on a 2,000 calorie diet should eat on a daily basis.

But here's the rub... "average" translates to about 40 years old, male, healthy, moderate to very active, and with no health issues. How many people do you know who fall into that exact category? I certainly don't. Nor do most of my friends. Or family. Or classmates. Therefore, assuming we should all reach 100%, using the percentages on food labels to tally our daily intakes paints a deceiving nutritional picture. A 70 year old female would be way over her limits. A 30 year old marathon runner would be under.

Instead, I recommend looking at the actual number of grams or milligrams, then tallying those to ensure you are meeting(or not exceeding) your proper nutrition ranges. For example, if you are on a low sodium diet, try not to exceed 1200 mg/day. (If you are on a normal diet, the recommendation is about 2400/mg day.)

The percentage daily value isn't worthless, however. For those of us lacking math skills, it gives a good estimate, and is certainly better than ignoring the label completely! The % DV is also helpful when comparing two or more food items. For example, the cereal with 3% DV of sodium is a better choice than the other cereal listing 8%. When comparing foods, a good rule of thumb is to choose lower percentages of fats, cholesterol and sodium, and higher percentages of fiber, vitamins, calcium and iron.

Got more questions? How much fiber should you eat in a day? How much calcium? Drop me a line and I'll be happy to tell you the right amount for YOU-- not some "average" dude.