This week I was honored to help Katie Couric with her “Fed Up” Challenge: a national initiative to help America kick all added sugars from their diet for 10 days. The film, which I originally saw at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, has sparked a heated national conversation about the excess of sugars in our diets (according to the USDA, the average American consumes over 22 teaspoons per day).
You can watch the tv clip and read the piece I wrote for her website here.
In my opinion, asking people to spend 10 days really digging into where added sugars are coming from in their own diet is a productive and insightful experiment. Talking with audience members before the taping illuminated for me just how instructive The Challenge has been for them; many shared with me how they have discovered that they are consuming far more added sugars than they realized-often in foods that they had no idea would contain them.
I respect the many people working on these issues who have different opinions about America’s health and weight challenges and how to fix them. My own view is that yes, there are multiple areas that need attention. Yes, the entire story is more nuanced and complicated than just added sugars. But as a single issue to focus on to achieve the greatest change for the greatest number of Americans, and in the fastest way possible, I believe sugar is a reasonable place to start. In fact, a review commissioned by the WHO, and published in the British Medical Journal found that shaving off even small amounts of sugar can have a meaningful impact.
This film offers us an important moment to help Americans understand the crucial distinction between added sugars vs. naturally occurring sugars in the foods we buy-something truly difficult for the average person to decipher on our current Nutrition Facts Panel. And it has galvanized parents to take stock of exactly how much added sugar is going in their families diet, enabling them to make more conscious, thoughtful choices. As a dietitian and as a parent, I am honored to be part of that vital conversation.
In modest amounts sugar can certainly be included in a nutrient rich and healthy eating pattern. In full disclosure, I use a bit of organic or raw sugar myself. And yes, some of my partners have foods that contain added sugars. Learning how-and when-to include sugars in your diet is an important life skill for a healthy weight and a healthy relationship with food.
The foods we covered in the segment collectively add about 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugars in a person’s day- well over what is recommended by the American Heart Association for the average woman (6 teaspoons a day), and near the maximum of what’s recommended for the average man (9 teaspoons a day). Those who are physically active, are taller or have significantly more lean muscle tissue can enjoy a somewhat larger limit.
Still have questions? Here are some basic guidelines on how many “empty calories” -based on age and gender-you should aim for as part of a healthy eating pattern.
What’s your take on added sugars? The film? The Fed Up Challenge? I’d love to hear from you!