Make the month of love a little less sickly sweet…

February is the month where hearts are top of mind. It’s Heart Month for one thing, and down the hall from BCAHL our neighbours at the Heart and Stroke Foundation are super busy. But Valentine’s Day is around the corner too, and ads are out for candy, chocolate, even heart-shaped cakes. It’s a month of temptations. But while you’re debating what to get your sweetheart, you might want to ponder some of the mounting evidence that when you reach for treats for your sweetie you might perhaps consider strawberries as a heart-shaped sweet treat over chocolates.

Last week’s Globe and Mail ran an article touting “sugar as the new tobacco” because of its ubiquity in the packaged foods that many of us eat and the effects on our livers, hearts and other disease rates. The article also mentions a group of heavy-hitting health experts, Action on Sugar, who have made a mark on the amount of sodium that we eat and are now taking aim at sugar.

This week a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association points to a wide study that looked at the statistics for American eating habits and disease rates from 1988 to 2010 and “observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk” for death from Cardiovascular disease. These are highly respected academics, who don’t make such statements  lightly and while we will hear ongoing debate in the media about how much and what type of foods are good for us, this evidence should weigh heavily with those who are interested in chronic disease prevention.
Sugar is also being pointed out as a culprit in disease rates, not only due to excess calories causing excess weight and also because of the accompanying health issues that can occur. According to this week’s Globe article from Andre Picard – “sugar not only contributes to conditions like obesity and diabetes, it damages the body’s organs directly.”

While my friends down the hall at HSF haven’t yet suggested a maximum sugar intake, there are a couple of organizations that are starting to put a limit on recommended sugar intake. For instance, these suggested totals are from another recent media article:

The American Heart Association recommends that women restrict their daily sugar intake to 100 calories in total, which is the equivalent of six teaspoons worth. They recommend that men have no more than 150 calories of their diets be made up of added sugars — that’s about nine teaspoons of sugar in total…

The World Health Organization (WHO) has slightly different recommendations. They suggest that people should limit their overall consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily caloric intake.

It seems clear to me that we need to re-think the amount of sugar in our diets and that there are some easy ways to make those changes.

BCAHL relies on our members to contribute to our policy and programs, and over time I have tried to put their wisdom into practice. So here are my personal top 5 tips for cutting back a bit on the sweet stuff:

 

  1. “Sip Smart” don’t drink your calories through pop, sports drinks, mega mochas or double doubles;
  2. Take coffee and tea black or with milk rather than sugar;
  3. Choose fruit with yogurt for a mid-morning snack instead of picking up a muffin;
  4. Reduce your use of condiments like ketchup and bottled dressings (this helps with sodium intake too);
  5. Pack a snack for that late afternoon lull – veggies and humus, some nuts or crackers and cheese are better than a cookie to see you through to dinner.

Happy Heart Month to everyone out there!

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy & Programs
February 2014

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