Diet and health have a deep connection — together, they build a foundation for long-term wellness. Maintaining a good diet involves many factors, but one of the most crucial may be to monitor your sugar intake.
Staying aware of sugar consumption helps fend off a range of health issues including high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, weight gain and fatty liver disease.
But recent research offers up another reason to keep tabs on your sugar intake: sugar metabolism may also be linked to overreactions in influenza and other viruses.
Here are a few ways to keep your daily sugar in check.
Reasons to Cut Back on Added Sugar
Scientists have found that a virus that typically causes the seasonal flu sets off a chain of events that speeds up sugar metabolism — the process that converts the energy in food into fuel for the body. This, in turn, triggers a surge of molecules known as cytokines, which can cause runaway inflammation in the body. This so-called "cytokine storm" has been a factor for many people who have suffered adverse effects from COVID-19. As community focus shifts toward preserving health, easing the burden on the health care system and slowing the spread of the virus, it's in members' best interest to seek out a diet that's low in sugar and conducive to their health.
Even the healthiest of members could likely stand to reduce their overall sugar intake. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, most of which comes from prepared and processed foods. Two of the biggest offenders are sugar-sweetened drinks and breakfast cereals. But sugar offers no nutritional benefit: The American Heart Association (AHA), recommends that Americans drastically cut back on added sugar to no more than six teaspoons a day for most women and no more than nine teaspoons for most men.
Strategies for Avoiding Added Sugar
As the pandemic continues, staying aware of simple ways to reduce sugar intake provides even more ways to maintain good health in the long run.
Consider sharing these tips with your members:
- Become familiar with names for added sugars. While sugar on some labels may be obvious — such as brown sugar or raw sugar — it can sometimes be harder to detect. Other names for added sugar include fruit juice concentrates, invert sugar and words ending in "ose" such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose or sucrose.
- Cut out or cut down on sugar-filled drinks. Soft drinks are a major source of added sugar — most contain high-fructose corn syrup equal to 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- Eliminate sugary breakfast cereals. Instead, choose unprocessed breakfast foods that offer more nutrition, like a banana or oatmeal, and avoid overly processed foods with long ingredient lists.
- Be on the lookout for hidden sugars. Scrutinize the ingredients lists on cans and packages when shopping, and ask questions when ordering takeout or dining out. Sugar is a common ingredient in even savory dishes, so be sure to check for it in less obvious places like soups, bread, barbecue sauce and cured meats.
- Scale back on added sugar when baking. Cut down on the amount of sugar in baking recipes, or swap out sugar for a healthier option like unsweetened applesauce or honey.
- For dessert, focus on fruits. It's okay to indulge in a cookie or a decadent slice of cake every now and then, but if you have a consistent sweet tooth, commit to having fruit for dessert most nights. You can even cook berries with some coconut oil and spices like cinnamon or cloves for a warm after-dinner treat.
Helping your members cut back on what's likely high amounts of added sugar in their diets will help them maximize their health and well-being. As the pandemic continues on into the winter months, union leaders have an opportunity to encourage better diet and health choices from members.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.