The daily diet of many Americans includes a long list of foods, which contain processed sugar of one kind or another, and some nutrition experts are concerned consuming large amounts of the sweetener are contributing to a rise in health issues, particularly obesity.
Pam Dove registered dietician at Baraga County Memorial Hospital, said Americans are eating more than three times the amount of processed sugar considered healthy.
"Most (Americans) get about 355 calories of sugar a day," she said. "The American Heart Association recommends less than 100 calories a day of added sugar for women, and less than 150 calories per day for men."
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Processed sugar is in many food and beverages items Americans consume, but local dietary experts say there are ways to cut down on and replace those items with healthy alternatives.
Finding that added sugar really isn't difficult, Dove said. It not only is in the obvious sources of soft drinks and dessert-type baked goods, such as cookies and cakes, it's also in such things as many brands of bread, microwaved meals and non-dairy coffee creamers. Of course, added processed sugars are in breakfast cereals.
Dove said in the ingredient labels on foods, the most prominent ingredient is listed first, and for many processed foods, sugars are at the top of the list.
Energy drinks are popular now, and because they are very high in sugar, they're problematic.
"That's a big factor in the rise of obesity," she said.
There are several negative health effects to having a high amount of processed sugar in the diet, Dove said. Sugar is very high in calories, so one of the biggest problems is obesity, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure, an increase in triglycerides and cholesterol, and in the extreme, an increased risk for cancer. Tooth decay is another obvious health risk with a high intake of sugar.
Besides table sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets, Dove said sugars added to foods come from dextrose and high fructose corn syrup, which is getting a lot of attention, now, about its possible risks or lack of risks.
"The research is still evolving," she said.
Dove said the way sugar is consumed needs to be done intelligently.
"We need sugar, but we need to have healthier choices," she said.
There are healthy sweet alternatives, and Dove said making them available to family members can do much to change eating habits. Fresh fruits and vegetables, which are cut up and placed in clear containers on refrigerator shelves as close to eye level as possible can help assure they get eaten. Putting fruits and vegetables in the drawers on the bottom of the refrigerator, where they are out of sight and out of mind, often leads to them just sitting uneaten and eventually rotting.
Even canned fruit can be a healthy alternative, Dove said, if it's the kind packed in natural juices and not sugar water.
Using plain water with lemon or other fruit added is a healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks, Dove said. Fruit juices without added sugar are good alternatives, also.
Beth Cook, dietetics manager at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in Laurium, said excessive use of processed sugar can lead to internal problems, also.
"It can cause an increase in visceral fat around your organs," she said.
A large amount of belly fat is a good indicator of the possibility of visceral fat, Cook said, and it can lead to another health issue.
"It makes you more insulin resistant," she said.
There is sugar in fruit, but Cook said it's a natural sugar the human body can more easily use.
"Those are better ways to get sugar," she said.
Cook said artificial sweeteners can be a healthy alternative to processed sugar.
"I think those are fine," she said.
Even so called "diet" drinks can lead to weight gain if they are used to excess, Cook said.
Cook said it's possible to use processed sugar and still be healthy. Consuming 5 to 15 percent of total daily calories in the form of solid fat and added sugar as recommended by the American Heart Association can be healthy.
Eating more whole fruit is obviously a healthy choice, and it provides the sweetness people want, Cook said.
"You're getting more fiber and nutrients," she said.
For those wanting to cut down their processed sugar intake, Cook said it's important to look at a particular food item's ingredients.
"The (ingredient) label is a great asset," she said.
Dove said moderation in eating foods with processed sugar is a good way to start to make a dietary change, and that change should start at the grocery store.
"If you feel like eating a doughnut, bring home a doughnut (rather than an entire box)," she said.
Also using smaller packages of food items, such as pints rather than gallon tubs of ice cream, Dove said is a good way to help make the transition to healthier eating.
"You're teaching your kids and your family how to work those foods in (their diet) in moderation," she said.
For more information about obesity in Michigan, go online to michigan.gov/documents/mdch/CHI2010_WebFinal-13_340401_7.pdf or michigan.gov/documents/mdch/Obesity_chapter_283600_7.pdf.