BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Now that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has dropped high-cholesterol foods like eggs and shrimp off its naughty list, it’s time to completely revise our way of eating.
And in addition to giving the green light to these foods, the panel of experts who revised the eating guidelines took dead aim at sugar.
For the first time, the panel said that Americans should limit their added sugar -- sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared -- to no more than 10 percent of daily calories.
But this will fall on deaf ears.
Research tells us that the majority of Americans do not consistently track their calorie consumption on a daily basis and that those who do try often totally underestimate the amount of calories, sugar or fat in the foods they eat.
On top of that, most adults don’t know how many calories they need daily for optimal health. As with all dietary information for most foods, the information is out there on the Internet. But who wants to scour Baskin-Robbins’ website every time we want to treat our kids to an ice cream cone?
Well, I don’t want to, but I do it anyway because of the high incidence of Type 2 diabetes in my family. My sons consider me the queen of food nags and a general downer regarding my concern for their nutritional well-being, but I’m a major outlier. Most people don’t start paying attention until they’re faced with the diagnosis of a chronic disease.
So what of this 10 percent limit on calories from added sugar?
Well, that’s another dilemma. The panel suggests -- and media outlets will reprint -- that this comes out to roughly 12 teaspoons a day for many adults, or about 190 calories of added sugar a day.
It is unbearably difficult to keep your added-sugar intake that low. After the advisory committee’s 1980 guidelines suggesting a low-fat diet, food manufacturers started pouring sugar into nearly everything to replace the taste that went out with the fats.
Today, even essentially healthy products, like yogurt, are bursting with added sugar. And then there are the 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar that adults are estimated to eat daily, half of which come from junky soda, juices and other sweetened drinks.
The fact that sugar is our new devil is no surprise; it has been in the spotlight of our obesity epidemic for five years now, with small challenges for “King of the Bad Foods” coming from salt, white flour, food additives and more, over the years.
But should we embrace these new guidelines by turning our attention from high cholesterol food and waging all-out war on this new nutritional bogeyman?
If the reversal of the 1980s guidelines has anything to teach us, it’s that we can’t rail against any one nutrient and expect to be guaranteed good health.
The bigger lesson is that despite our wonderful abundance of medical research, we just don’t fully understand the mysteries of the human body.
For years we’ve been worrying about the rise in peanut allergies, and last week scientists reported that maybe we should give our babies peanut butter to prevent their onset.
Sanitation has been the primary focus in infection control for years. Now some researchers are saying that children whose families rely on a dishwasher may not be developing as high a tolerance for allergens as those who eat off hand-washed dishes and may be exposed to more bacteria.
If there’s anything to learn from constant, oftentimes contradictory, medical research, it is that we must rely on common sense: Eat in moderation and get some exercise.
Esther J. Cepeda is a Nationally Syndicated Columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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