Sugar Habit: Nutrition and Your Sweet Tooth (cont.)
While a high-sugar diet is not recommended, especially for those watching their weight, it's not the sugar itself that leads to weight gain, says Debbie Strong, MBA, LDN, RD, cardiovascular dietitian at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.
"If the sugary foods and beverages lead to an increase in your total consumption of calories, then yes, weight gain will happen," she says. "But that's true of any food. Eat too much of anything and you're going to gain weight."
"The main problem with sugar is that most sources (like candy, soft drinks, and desserts) don't provide appreciable amounts of other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and are therefore classified as "empty calories," says Susan Dahlheimer, PhD, professor and chair of food and nutrition at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "Ideally, the consumption of these foods should not replace more nutrient-dense foods, so they should be used in moderation."
But because we are biologically programmed to prefer sweet foods, says Dahlheimer, trying to eliminate them from our diet altogether doesn't work.
So how do we reduce our consumption of "empty calorie" sweets? Dahlheimer and other experts offer these tips:
Artificial sweeteners are one obvious way to cut down on the amount of sugar you take in, but they're not always necessary, says Melanie Polk, MMSc, RD, FADA, director of nutrition education for the American Institute for Cancer Research. It's important to remember that sugar only has 16 calories per teaspoon, says Polk: "That's a minuscule amount of calories."