No Sugar? No Problem! Cooking Sugar-Free: A Live Event with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Satisfy your sweet tooth -- without extra sugar!

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's resident 'Recipe Doctor,' Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, specializes in turning no-no recipes into healthy and delicious options for those with special diets. On April 27, Elaine joined us to talk about satisfying your sweet tooth with sugar-free recipes and to unveil a tasty new creation using sugar-free chocolate.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

This class was sponsored by Hershey's Sugar-Free Chocolates.

Moderator: Welcome, Elaine. As Americans, we eat an awful lot of sugar, don't we?

Magee: The average American consumes around 150 pounds of sugar per year, so we literally eat our weight in sugar each year.

Moderator: That can't be healthy.

Magee: Recently we've seen some research showing possible links of higher sugar diets to some of our greatest health problems. One of the biggest issues with high-sugar foods is that it often puts us in double jeopardy. Along with getting high amounts of sugar, we can get high amounts of fat, and the worst fat, as well -- animal fats and trans fats. Think about our favorite high-sugar foods: ice cream, chocolate, cakes, cookies. These rich sweets are just as high in extra fat as they are in sugar. So that's just one thing to keep in mind when we're talking just about sugar and disease risk.

High levels of sugar don't necessarily lead to obesity. But it certainly doesn't help us beat the battle of the bulge, either. A recent review of international research concluded that a high-fat diet is the most important single cause for overweight. But that a high-sugar intake could not be excluded as a contributing factor.

Then there's colon cancer. One of the most recent and largest studies on women found sugar-containing foods and drinks along with sugar intake, to be risk factors for colon cancer after adjusting for age, energy intake, and other known risk factors. This makes sense to me, because we know that a high-sugar diet appears to increase the time food waste stays in the colon. And it tends to increase the concentration of bile acids in our feces. Both of these are thought to increase the risk of colon cancer. So we need more studies on this, clearly, but it makes sense to avoid eating a high-sugar diet.

Some other diseases that may be associated with higher-sugar diets are gall stone disease, insulin resistance, and possibly heart disease, although we need to know more, obviously, about all of these.

The one thing that tends to happen with higher-sugar intake is you tend to have a lower-fiber intake. I see sugar as being one piece of a puzzle. When we eat a higher-sugar diet, it tends to create an unhealthy diet from other aspects, as well.

Moderator: Where do we get most of our sugar from -- the sugar bowl, or added sugars in processed foods?

Magee: Added foods in processed foods. That's the short answer. Let me tell you the top five sugar traps for women, in particular.

  • The No. 1 source of sugar, and I don't think you'll be surprised, is soda and sweetened beverages. We get around 9 teaspoons in every 12 ounces of every regular soda, and around 12 teaspoons of sugar in every 12 ounces of fruit drinks, fruit aids, lemonades, and sweetened teas. To me, if we just got a handle on this one food item, it could have huge positive effects across this country. I personally think regular soda is way too sweet. That's just my own personal preference. So a long time ago I made it one of my rules to drink one caffeine-free, diet soda a day. I try not to go more than that, but I really like my caffeine-free, diet cola right after lunch. It's just a rule that's worked for my family. My kids have gotten used to it from day one, and I have one child that prefers regular and one that prefers diet. Either way, we don't have more than one a day.
  • The second sugar trap is sort of the bakery category, which includes cakes, cookies, danishes, pastries, and pie. They have about 6 teaspoons per 1/16 of a cake and 6 teaspoons per 1/6 of an 8-inch pie. So this kind of shows the magnitude of the sugar from soda and pastries, because remember back in the soda and sweetened beverages we got 9 to 12 teaspoons per one drink.
  • The third sugar trap is what our moderator called the sugar bowl. It's sugar and sugar substitute blends. It includes syrups, honey, sweet toppings, and we get about 3 teaspoons of sugar in every tablespoon of syrup and honey.
  • The fourth sugar trap is my personal favorite, and that's candy, which includes chocolate, which is my favorite. We get about 3 teaspoons of sugar in every ounce of chocolate bar.
  • The fifth sugar trap is sort of the frozen milk-dessert category, which includes ice cream and frozen yogurt. Here we get about 3 teaspoons of sugar in a ½-cup serving.

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