Apples: High soluble-fiber snacks

Grouping sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables together with sugars added to processed and prepared foods is the wrong strategy when it comes to reducing sugar intake for improved heart-health. A recent story by Science Daily discusses a study by the University of Illinois about the health benefits of soluble fiber found in apples, nuts and oats, and the production of an anti-inflammatory protein called interleukin-4.  Heart disease causes inflammation in the cells, and reducing inflammation helps boost the immune system.

AHA’s recommended dietary added sugar

For a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating four-and-a-half servings of fruits and vegetables. Of course, this includes the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables. The AHA also suggests limiting daily “dietary added sugar” to 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.

Comparing apples to granola bars

For a better understanding of the relationship between naturally occurring sugar and dietary added sugars, compare two popular snacks high in sugar: an apple and a Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar. An average apple contains approximately 13 grams of sugar, 65 calories, 3 grams of fiber and no fat calories. A single-serving  granola bar has 12 grams of sugar, 180 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 60 fat calories.

Manufacturers aren’t required to distinguish between added dietary sugar and naturally occurring sugar on the nutrition facts panel, so we need read the list of ingredients to determine if the sugar found in the granola bar is added or occurs naturally. Nature Valley Cinnamon Crunchy Granola Bars list whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, yellow corn flour, brown sugar syrup, soy flour, salt, cinnamon, soy lecithin and baking soda. Since naturally occurring sugar found in the oats and yellow corn flour is minimal, we can conclude that the snack contains almost 12 grams of added sugar from ingredients listed: sugar and brown sugar syrup.

Naturally occurring sugar vs. dietary added sugar

Although an apple and a granola bar have almost equal amounts of sugar, the granola bar contains “added dietary sugar,” not to mention added fat calories. Whereas an apple has no added sugar and helps fulfill the AHA’s daily recommendation for fruits and vegetables. And according to the Illinois University study, apples may even help control inflammation associated with heart disease.


Healthy popcorn snacks

There are plenty of ways to make snacks and treats part of a heart-healthy diet without sacrificing flavor. Start with air-popped popcorn — it’s only 31 calories per cup — and add healthy ingredients. Here are two ideas to get you going.

Cheesy Popcorn

Popcorn received a bad rap when studies showed the indigestible pieces could create problems for people with diverticulitis. Yahoo’s Tip of the day, “Fortify Your GI Tract with This Midnight Munchie” says a new study finds that popcorn might actually be good for your GI tract. Try your own test with this healthy recipe for cheesy popcorn. Be sure to use air-popped popcorn.

Macadamia Popcorn

Know Your Fats,” the American Heart Association’s (AHA) education page, recommends limiting your total fat to 25 – 35 percent of your total calories daily. Healthy fats should be substituted for unhealthy fats whenever possible.

Unhealthy fats to limit or avoid:

  • Saturated
  • Trans
  • Cholesterol

Substitute these fats:

  • Monounsaturated
  • Polyunsaturated

That should be no problem with Macadamia popcorn treat recipe from Whole Foods. Instead of drizzling butter over your popcorn, the recipe calls for macadamia nut oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats believed to help reduce cholesterol. The recipe also calls for raisins and walnuts — a fruit and a heart-healthy nut. As before, use air-popped popcorn in your recipe.

Begin with Air-Popped Popcorn

Check this simple recipe from E-How for making homemade air-popped popcorn in the microwave using a paper bag and tape.

  1. Add three tablespoons of kernels to a lunch-sized paper bag.
  2. Seal the opening with masking tape.
  3. Place the bag in the microwave and cook on high with the time set for two minutes. Listen for the corn to pop. When there is about five seconds between pops, stop the microwave. Wait thirty seconds before removing the bag from the microwave. Open the bag carefully.

Uncovering my addiction to sugar

Several years ago, I gave myself a pat on the back after giving up sugary carbonated beverages. I’d consumed one to two carbonated drinks a day for most of my life. That’s over twice the American Heart Associations (AHA) daily recommended limit of 100 calories.

Following that success, I believed anything was possible, so I began to gradually eliminate processed foods from my diet. All the while, I continued to eat deserts regularly, add sugar to my tea , coffee and cereal — and even increased the “dosage” a little. I was convinced that this small amount of sugar was negligible compared to the sugar I once consumed by drinking sugary carbonated beverages and eating processed foods. One day, while placing a new 5-pound bag of sugar into my grocery cart, I realized that I had begun purchasing that much every two to three weeks. I didn’t know that the AHA’s recommended daily limit for added sugar for women was 25 grams or less, and that I was consuming up to 57 grams daily. When sugar was concealed within the processed foods I ate, it had been easy to ignore. But staring down into my grocery cart, I knew that a 5-pound bag of sugar every two weeks was too much for one person.

Several months ago, in a last-ditch effort to reduce my risk for heart-disease, I stopped adding sugar to my food, I’ve avoided eating processed foods, and I have deserts only on occasion. I finally understand that my craving was never for carbonated beverages, a particular processed food, or even deserts, but rather for the regular sugar fixes those foods had been providing me all day, every day for many years.

Raisin bran and other sugary cereals

An article about sugary cereals caught my attention this week. The story’s online thumbnail paired an image of a bowl of raisin bran cereal with the title, “Best and Worst Breakfast Cereals.” I thought raisin bran was one of the healthier choices. It’s only wheat flakes with a little fruit, right?

Alternatives to sugary cereals

The story, posted by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, a Yahoo! Health Expert, reports that a one-cup serving of raisin bran contains 19 grams of sugar. As an alternative, the writer suggests substituting Kellogg’s All Bran, which contains only 7 grams of sugar, and then adding a tablespoon of your own raisins for a total of 13 grams of sugar — 6 grams less sugar than raisin bran.

Compare the alternative

Let’s compare apples to apples — or should I say, “flakes to flakes”? Manufacturers aren’t required to separate sugars added to improve taste from naturally occurring sugars on the nutrition facts label. So how much sugar listed on Kellogg’s Raisin Bran’s nutrition facts label is from the raisins, and therefore naturally occurring, and how much sugar has been added to improve taste?

Remember, the nutrition facts label for Kellogg’s All Bran states 7 grams of sugar, and according to the ingredient list, the only ingredients other than added sugar are whole wheat and wheat bran. But let’s face it, whole wheat and wheat bran processed into flakes is going to need a little help to taste good.

I’ll assume a serving of Raisin Bran also has one tablespoon of raisins. Subtract 6 grams of sugar found in one tablespoon of raisins from 19 grams of sugar found in one-serving of raisin bran and you’re left with 13 grams of sugar — 6 grams more sugar in one serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (without the raisins) than found in one serving of All Bran flakes.

What’s “added sugar” and what’s the daily limit?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of discretionary or “added sugar” for women and 9 teaspoons for men. AHA defines discretionary and added sugars as “sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. It does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose).”

Discretionary sugars – use them wisely

A single serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran contains slightly more than half my daily limit of discretionary sugars. All Bran contains a little less than one-third, but I don’t like All Bran, even with the added raisins. I prefer to enjoy my discretionary sugar, so after careful analysis, I’ll skip All Bran and occasionally have a bowl of raisin bran.

Reducing America’s salt intake

In addition to sugar, another white granular substance used to enhance the flavor of food is in the news – it’s salt. Many people have cut-back or quit adding salt to prepared foods where possible and limited their consumption of processed foods high in sodium. But according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the average American is still consuming almost twice as much sodium as the recommended daily limit, with 77% of sodium coming from processed foods.

FDA’s ten-year plan

The story also reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning an initiative that will require manufacturers to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to processed foods over a 10-year span.  This would allow Americans to become accustomed to the taste of foods as salt is gradually decreased.

Recommended sodium limits

To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting sodium to 1,500 mg daily. The average american consumes 3,435 mg daily. To put things in greater perspective, a teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Campbells Healthy Request chicken noodle soup has 120 calories and 410 mg sodium per 1-cup serving, almost a third of the 1,500 mg daily limit.

Sales for many processed foods would likely suffer without a gradual reduction in salt, so I don’t expect this to be an easy task for the FDA, manufacturers or consumers. Even with a gradual reduction in sodium, some foods may never be palatable without salt. There’s the question of whether inherently salty foods like pickles would need to comply. I’m wondering about olives. Change isn’t going to be easy, but change we must.

Study links sugar to heart disease

A study published yesterday by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) concludes that a correlation exists between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among U.S. adults.

The culprit: added sugars

The study defines added sugars as caloric sweeteners added to processed foods by manufacturers or added to prepared foods by consumers to make foods more desirable. Sugar added to oatmeal, tea and coffee; sugary drinks, such Coke and Pepsi, and most processed foods meet the description of “dietary added sugars.” Although complex carbohydrates found naturally in fruits and vegetables, such as corn, beets and bananas, ultimately break down and become chemically similar to added sugars, they are not the same as dietary added sugars.

Trans fats and cholesterol have been known to increase the risk of heart disease by collecting along artery walls and eventually hardening into plaque. Although exactly how is not understood, it’s been known that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes a lipid profile that correlates with increased risk for heart disease.

A balanced diet is essential

That doesn’t mean carbohydrates can be eliminated from your diet to reduce your risk of heart disease; they are essential for good health for the energy and nutrients they provide. Added dietary sugars increase total carbohydrate consumption to unhealthy levels without adding any nutritional value. The answer is to eat a healthy diet with balanced portions of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Added dietary sugars upset the balance because they increase carbohydrate levels and they lack nutrients.

Sugar under a different name

Check the sugar listing on the nutritional facts panel and read the list of ingredients for processed and packaged foods. It’s surprising how often added dietary sugar can be found — it’s even in ketchup and mayonnaise. But it’s not usually listed as “sugar” in the ingredient list. This article has a handy list words for added dietary sugar to lookout for in ingredient lists:

  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
  • Dehydrated Cane Juice
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Xylose

Serving sizes add up

Many snack foods and drinks that appear to be packaged in single-serving containers list two are more servings on the nutrition facts label.

According to Lisa F. Harper Malonee, BSDH, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and associate professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry, people who believe they are eating snacks and treats in moderation could be consuming more sugar, fat and calories than they realize.

“For instance, a 20-ounce soft drink has two and a half servings. Most individuals consume all of this beverage,” said Malonee. “However, the label states that there are two and a half servings in that bottle. Rather than consuming 100 calories, an individual consumes 250 calories.”

This example is similar to my own early experiences reading nutrition facts labels, which usually came as an after thought — after I was finished eating and had consumed much more than I would’ve had I read the label first. I learned never to trust my eyes.

“But the problem isn’t just that people don’t understand labels,” said Malonee. “The bigger problem is that many people don’t read labels at all.”

To avoid exceeding your daily limits for fats, sugar, sodium and calories, pay close attention to serving size and number of servings listed on the nutrition facts label, which is required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Reading and using information found on the label is an important tool for maintaining a heart-healthy diet. For more information about the nutrition facts label on packaged foods, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Web site.