Over the next 4 editions of the Bromfield Bulletin, I’ll discuss 4 steps you can take to “spring clean” your diet. These steps are: cut out added sugar, ditch processed foods, add vegetables, and eat mindfully. We’ll start with sugar.
We love sweet foods – and for good reason. Sugar is biologically addictive. Eating foods packed with carbohydrates (think cookies, bread, sweet potatoes, bananas, etc) activates the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain involved with addiction, and also activates the brain’s reward system.1 Sugar is the brain’s preferred energy source – the human brain uses approximately 25% of the body’s energy budget and up to 60% of blood glucose, making sugar essential for the evolution of big-brained humans.2
However, our ancestors were consuming sugar in the form of complex carbohydrates, such as tubers and seeds.2 Our current food environment is overrun with foods containing added sugar, such as table sugar (sucrose) and sugar syrups (high fructose corn syrup).3 While some foods, like fruits and certain vegetables, do contain simple sugars, these sugars come packaged with fiber, protein, vitamins and/or minerals.4 This provides your body with nutrients and also slows the release of sugar into the blood sugar, giving you more sustained energy. Added sugars, on the other hand, are often found packaged with foods that are not nutrient dense and do not contain a lot of fiber, making these sugars a source of added calories without improving diet quality.5
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans limit added sugar consumption to 10% of total calories.5 Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet that would mean limiting added sugar consumption to approximately 200 calories per day. Currently, the average man consumes approximately 355 calories per day of added sugars and the average woman consumes approximately 230 calories.6 High intakes of added sugar may lead to weight gain, abnormal levels of fat in the blood and have been associated with type 2 diabetes and the risk of dying from heart disease.7
So, how do you start ridding your diet of added sugar even though it is pleasurable, addictive, and found everywhere? First, we need a shift in food policy and in the labeling and availability of sweetened foods.8 However, there are some ways you can reduce your added sugar intake. Start by checking nutrition facts and limiting the amount of sugar you add to your coffee, cereal, etc. Even foods that are marketed as “healthy” may contain high amounts of sugar. To give you some perspective, an 8-ounce serving of Stonyfield Farm organic vanilla yogurt has 29 grams of sugar and one Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate KIND bar has 9 grams of sugar. Sugar can also hide in processed foods, even in foods you may not think of as sweet. For example, ½ cup of Newman’s Own Tomato & Basil spaghetti sauce has 12 grams of sugar. Opt for packaged food items that contain no added sugars or artificial sweeteners and aim to increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, beans, etc. You can also try sweetening yogurt with cut fruit and making your own granola bars at home.
Here’s a recipe for homemade granola bars from The Kitchn9:
4-Ingredient Banana Oat Bars
2 large, very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates
1/4 cup chopped nuts — such as walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans
Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)
Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9-x9-inch square baking dish with olive oil or butter.
Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Mash very thoroughly until no large chunks remain; the bananas should be essentially liquid. (You will have between 1 cup and 1 1/4 cup.) Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the salt, dates, and nuts.
Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up
Place the baking pan on a rack to cool. When the pan is mostly cool, cut into bars and enjoy with a glass of milk or tea.
Store leftover bars at room temperature. They will keep for about 5 days.
We’ll talk processed foods in the next edition. Happy Spring!
Health and Wellness Teacher
The Bromfield School