Sunday, February 28, 2021

Can I Borrow Some Sugar?

Always check nutrition labels when food shopping. You may be surprised how much sugar is in your favorite foods. Photo by Jesus Calo

Always check nutrition labels when food shopping. You may be surprised how much sugar is in your favorite foods. Photo by Jesus Calo

Think of the perfect summer beach day – there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun is high, and you are ready to quench your thirst after hours of swimming outside. Consider an ice-cold can of your favorite soda. It is tempting to crack open the pop top and down the delicious sugary drink, but is what’s hidden inside going to do the trick?

It is not to say that all sugar is bad or that enjoying a slice of cake on a particular occasion will be the end of your health as you know it. But added sugar is a big offender to one’s health, and the public may not even be aware of how it is affecting them.

We have access to variety when it comes to the foods we buy. It’s not only your favorite soda that contains added sugar, but it’s also inside sports drinks, energy drinks, ice cream, and yogurt. The list of foods that contain added sugar is large and the amount inside each of the products also varies. For example, a can of soda can contain 33 grams of sugar when orange juice can contain 21 grams. The awareness of what’s inside our snack foods has sparked change throughout public schools.

There are currently programs in place to help moderate sugar consumption. Public schools and college campuses have taken initiatives to provide healthier snacks in its vending machines and school lunches. There are programs in place from the USDA such as Team Nutrition that encourage change to the culture of healthy eating and snacking. It is not only having access to healthy foods, but our attitude to try new foods.

Nutrition Educator, Myriam Calo (the author’s mother), has previously worked for Team Nutrition at elementary schools in our area extending all the way to La- Belle, Florida. Calo’s primary responsibility was to work hand in hand with the kitchen manager to ensure the foods cooked met the USDA’s standard for healthy eating. For example, small changes to the menu would consist of going from serving white bread to whole wheat options. She would also routinely visit the children’s classrooms and inspire healthy eating habits. With the guidelines of MyPlate, provided by the USDA, the two brought visual displays of added sugars inside popular drinks, read fun stories regarding nutritious food, and they provided samples of fresh fruit and foods that the kids may not have been familiar with.

While the entire school appeared to be “picky-eaters” at first, Calo saw a change in what the kids chose for snacks in the lunch line. “With more fruits, vegetables and 100 percent juices available, the kids began to go for the good stuff.” Calo recalled.

The result of the pilot program awarded grants to the elementary schools that met all the standard requirements. The funds allowed for the kitchen manager to order better quality from its vendors along with access to more fresh foods in the cafeteria line during lunch hours.

It doesn’t just start there, other programs provided by our state government like WIC exist to help educate families with kids at young ages. From pregnancy to up to the age of five, women children and families have the resources to learn healthy eating habits and assistance to pay for the nutritious foods. The purpose of the program instills healthy habits that families can carry on.

On the same token, the elderly community faces its own set of challenges when accessing nutrition. Having worked as a Registered Dietitian for over

25 years, Tricia Marshel has her specialty certified in geriatric nutrition.

While the need for a healthy diet is evident, moderations to one’s favorite meals are sometimes gradual. The local community has started to see a shift for the better. Simple changes to your diet can improve other aspects of the quality of one’s life, but the information may be received differently. Not all physical ailments or chronic disease can be reversed at certain stages or just by diet alone.

The elderly may face more challenges even if they want to change, specific to their state of physical health. “A lot of foods that have added sugars are easier to eat (softer, easier to chew) as many have poor dental health, mouth pain, dentures that no longer fit,” Marshel said. “They tend to focus on nonperishable foods or convenience pre-packaged food that’s higher in added sugar, salt, and fat.” The strategy of healthy eating can be more challenging the older you become.

But most decisions come down to budget. College students may survive on lowcost foods for themselves while families typically feed three to four people every meal. Often when a person reaches a later stage in life, the selection of a quality nursing home becomes an important decision.

Marshel has previously worked at establishments with various budgets ranging from low to high. She would hear what the residents wanted to eat and she relayed the information to the manager in charge of food orders. Some places had generous budgets that could meet the demand but a few establishments had small budgets. “A person’s total cost of food would be equal to what we would pay at the local grocery store for a fresh serving of fruit.” Marshel stated, “Shockingly, the budget sometimes is just not there, and nutrition lacks because of it.”

To consider a well-balanced diet, it is important to remember that canned vegetables and canned fruits in their own juices, without added sugar, can also be a great alternative. “If you have frozen vegetables and canned fruits, they are a healthy way to help stretch your budget.” Marshel added, “We discuss the importance of ‘fresh’ [and] we can neglect to remember that fruits and vegetables that are canned aren’t bad for you.”

In some cases, frozen vegetables have more nutrients than fresh produce because of the flash freeze packaging process, rather than the long transition from farm to table. Marshel joked, “A frozen vegetable is not bad for you!”

Sometimes the thought looms over at certain stages of life if making changes to one’s diet will make a difference. While it may not reverse any chronic illness, it certainly has potential to influence your body’s responses to life’s aging transitions. “Eating better helps with our physical and mental health, fights infections, prevents worsened symptoms to chronic illness and reduces the chances of dental caries.” Marshel stated, “I think most of us would say that on days that we eat well, we feel sharper, and we feel good.”

It starts with what is on the table at home, and adjustments to your diet can be easier than you think. For more information about added sugar and tips for healthy eating, visit

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