Sugar, sugar… I know you are hiding

America has a love-hate affair with sugar. Just a walk down a grocery aisle shows how rabidly sugar loaded items are marketed. Recently at a county fair, I found it nearly impossible to find something that was not dipped in, frosted with, dusted with or baked and fried with sugars as a main ingredient. This is the reality despite the fact most Americans know the ill effects of consuming too much sugar.

Over the past two months I have become very aware of my sugar intake. With my gastric bypass (RNY) surgery, sugar became an ingredient I began paying some serious attention. The malabsorptive nature of RNY has made me intolerant of sugar. With the body unable to process excess sugar, I experience a “dumping” syndrome. It is not pleasant with severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea as the main symptoms.

I have found that sugar is much more prevalent in my diet than I expected. I see myself as a healthy grocery shopper who reads labels and makes good choices. You might be surprised at how many foods marketed as healthy foods contain a good bit of sugar. Here are some of my diet staples that I shop for carefully now that I know the sugar facts.

  1. Milk – 12-13 grams/cup
    Milk, how I love milk! I have been a major milk consumer since I was a child. There has been a lot of press over the years about limiting the fat intake and calories of milk by switching from whole or 2% milk to 1% or non-fat milk. Bariatric patients need to understand that all milk has about 12-13 grams of sugar in a cup. This may not be a problem when consumed alone but it is often combined with cereal and protein powder. The combination sets the amount of sugar into the intolerable range.
  2. Cereal – Read the nutrition label
    Cereals marketed to children are very high in sugar.  There are also “healthy” cereals that have an unacceptable sugar level for bariatric patients. This is especially true when served with a cup of milk (12 grams). One of the major contributors is the addition or fruits and nuts into the mix.  Some of my favorites with their sugar content are Grape Nuts Fit (13.5 grams), Special K Red Berries (5 grams) and Special K Protein Plus (9 grams). It is very important to note serving size on cereal packages. They vary and a seemingly healthy cereal becomes less when you discover the standard serving size is half of what you normally consume.
  3. Yogurt
    Healthy, active people in ads portray yogurt as the healthy snack and breakfast alternative. Yogurt is a milk product and in such has 12 grams of naturally occurring sugars. Add the fruit and sweet flavors and you may add 8-12 grams of sugar.  That 5 ounce container of yogurt may have 15-25 grams of sugar.  Start with plain yogurt and add fresh fruit to lose a lot of the added sugar.
  4. Prepackaged Oatmeal — 1 packet may have up to 15 grams
    Old fashioned oatmeal is actually quite healthy. It is high in fiber, has a decent amount of protein and has virtually no sugar. The pre-packaged instant oatmeal packets can be a totally different story. It is not uncommon to discover your favorite oatmeal has 10-12 grams of sugar. If you prepare the oatmeal with milk, you add 12 more grams of sugar. The good news is that you can switch to weight control or low sugar varieties that have 1-3 grams of sugar.
  5. Protein Bars/Powder – Read the nutrition label
    There is a big market out there for protein. The bariatric community is a niche market. Probably the largest community of protein consumers is athletes. Sugar is what gives power lifters, football players and other athletes the power they need to sustain their sport. This is why it is important to read the nutrition label on these products. Look for products often labeled lean protein, low sugar, or protein marketed to the bariatric community.

The bottom line is that I am limiting my sugar intake. I am not eliminating my sugar intake. My body needs sugar to produce energy to keep me going. It is part of a balanced diet.  I use the following sugar strategies to keep me healthy.

  1. Read the nutrition labels and avoid products with over 12 grams of sugar
  2. Limit the serving size on products that are higher in sugar.
  3. Avoid eating too much sugar by knowing the sugar content of foods I eat together.
  4. Switch to natural sugars, such as fruits, whenever possible to add flavor
  5. Avoid processed and packaged foods in favor of natural fresh foods.
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