The Dangers of Sugar and Food Labels

Last Thursday we were fortunate to have Christina join our apprenticeship to discuss the basics of sugar consumption and label reading.  Christina is a professional nutritionist who works at Whole Foods.

Christina demonstrated the amount of sugar that is in some commonly eaten foods.  For example, children’s breakfast cereals – one cup had 11 teaspoons of sugar.  Two cups?  22 teaspoons.  Soda can be especially high in sugar – one 2.5 serving of soda had 32.5 teaspoons of sugar.  A small package of candy added 11 more teaspoons of sugar.   See the jars in the picture for the side by side comparison of how much sugar those three items have next to a jar of the daily recommended amount.

A Wall Street Journal article: “The Sugar Math for Halloween” shows that most Americans consume 22 tsp of sugar a day – with teenage boys consuming an average of 34 tsp a day.  This compares to the 6-9 tsp per day researchers recommend.

The students asked – why is it bad to eat too much sugar?  Of course there are the long term medical effects of cavities, diabetes, etc.  But there are also two big short-term impacts.

1) Energy level.  Just like putting poor gasoline in a car, too many calories from sugar leads to lower sustained performance.  Managing sugar is critical to energy throughout the day. (Which is why whole fruits are better – the fiber releases the natural sugar more slowly.)

2) Sickness.  Sugar goes straight to the blood and bacteria multiply much faster when blood sugar is high.  So having lots of sugar makes you more likely to get sick and stay sick longer.

Next we did a great label reading exercise.  Each table of students compared the labels of 3-4 bags of chips and ranked them from most to least healthy based on the following criteria:

  1. Amount of sugar and salt (sodium).
  2. Number of ingredients – a small list of ingredients is good, a longer list is typically bad.

When looking at calories, sugar, salt etc, multiply the amounts shown by the serving size.  It is amazing how some food items look relatively innocent until you adjust for the serving size.  So beware!

In addition to learning about how to eat smarter, we also practiced making and eating some delicious snacks. The students each made their own tortilla or lettuce wrap roll-up, and we also had apple slices with almond butter and some caramel dip (OK it is fine to have some sugar!)

Citizen Schools Nutrional Cooking Apprenticeship

Healthy snack


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