Spring has finally arrived (when you live in the Northeast, I can’t emphasize the word “finally” enough). This is a great time of the year to add more physical activities to your week and look for lighter meals and healthy snacks.
I’m always reminded that people get mixed messages when it comes to healthy foods and healthy diets. Often these messages are singular and don’t take into account your whole diet and lifestyle. If you’re like me and have a sweet tooth, you want you to be able to enjoy treats, without guilt or worry, so let’s look at the facts.
Myths surrounding caloric sweeteners and sugars:
Eliminating sugar results in healthy diets.
You read and hear a lot about this. It’s an easy answer: “Just go sugar-free” or “If you want to eat healthy, you gotta lose the sugar”. Sure, sugar alone does not add value to the nutrition profile of your diet, but sugar can make healthy foods more palatable, and thereby help deliver important nutrients. For instance, a bit of maple syrup or honey added to your morning bowl of oats helps deliver those oats in a pleasing way. The sugar makes them more palatable, and therefore it’s more likely that you’ll enjoy oatmeal more often, and gain the important nutrients and fiber oats provide.
Fructose is the worst of all the sugars.
Ok, quick chemistry lesson – Fructose, like glucose, is a simple sugar (called a monosaccharide). Disaccharides are made up two monosaccharides. Sucrose (what’s likely in your sugar bowl) is comprised of half fructose and half glucose. Honey is also composed of about half fructose and half glucose. Fructose is the sugar naturally found in fruit. So what’s the deal with fructose? Some health care providers go to extremes with an anti-fructose message. Rather than worrying about eliminating fructose from you diet, focus more on adding other healthy foods into your diet (more vegetables, beans, some nuts, or high fiber grains such as quinoa, oats, or barley).
Sugars in foods are just for sweetness.
When people hear they should eliminate sugar and start reading labels, they may see that many items have some type of sugar added. Keep in mind that sugar is not just a sweetener. From a food processing perspective, It has other properties. It can help keep products moist, it’s a stabilizer, it can help maintain the color of certain foods, it can help yeast foods rise.
Not all calories are created equal.
This can easily be argued to be true – 100 calories of spinach provides much more nutrition than 100 calories of jelly beans. But calories still count at the end of the day, and indeed, it’s highly unlikely anyone is getting “too many” calories from vegetables! As suggested above, focus on adding foods that offer a lot of nutrition first, and then work in extra calories from treats.
Rosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN is a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist with over 25 years experience. As a Nutrition Communications Consultant, she delivers clear messages helping you understand the science of nutrition so you can enjoy eating for better health. Rosanne provides weight management coaching at RealLivingNutrition.com and is the co-author of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies® and the Calorie Counter Journal for Dummies®. A wife, and mother of 3 boys, she practices what she preaches, enjoying regular exercise, good food and festive entertaining. Follow her on Twitter @RustNutrition.