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Nutrition and You!

Is Sugar Making Us and Our Kids Fat?

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Katie Couric’s documentary, Fed Up, provides a chilling look at the current obesity epidemic among children. This issue has been a concern of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and other health organizations and agencies as 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, which is triple the rate it was a generation ago.

Obesity isn’t just a kid’s problem. Almost 70 percent of American adults are overweight with about half of these folks falling into the obese category. While the film follows the struggles of several children battling with dramatic weight issues, all their parents were also overweight. Hence, the leaf doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

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The film fingers the food industry and their marketing to children of their sugar-ladened beverages and snack foods as the weight-promoting culprits. Granted, “there are too many added sugars in the average American diet and that has contributed to obesity,” states Angela Lemond, RDN, and spokesperson for AND. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended that sugars should be reduced dramatically in the diet.

But sugar isn’t the only source of excess calories in the diet. The No. 1 source of calories among Americans age 2 and older is sugar and fat-ladened refined grain-based desserts, such as cookies, cakes, pastries, pies, donuts. Americans are consuming, on average, approximately 140 calories of bakery treats daily. (Sweetened beverages were either third or fourth on the calorie list depending upon the age of the consumer.)

When I was growing up, desserts and sweetened beverages used to be “special occasion” foods that were available only on holidays or in a small, limited amount on the weekend. They weren’t a daily food group. So, is it really the sugar or is it really the frequency that we are eating these calorie-ladened foods?

The film suggests that consumers are being bamboozled with constant advertisements to purchase and consume these products. “The movie seems to take the responsibility out of the consumer’s hand,” states Kristin King, RDN, and AND spokesperson. “Ultimately, the choice is just that – a consumer choice. For parents, they are the ones that buy the food. If they are concerned the child is overweight, don’t buy it.”

In the film, President Bill Clinton, summarizes the issue at hand by saying, “we have to change the diets of Americans.” This is exactly what the science-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) have advocated for years. We are consuming more calories than we did decades ago, and we are also more sedentary on a daily basis due, in part, to labor-saving technology. We don’t walk to do errands, rather we drive a car or shop online. We don’t push a lawnmower; we sit on a riding one to cut the grass.

While the movie is a call to action to become “Fed Up” with the situation and reduce the amount of sugar in your daily diet, it’s doesn’t tell you what to eat and drink on a daily basis. If you want to “take control” of your diet and weight, you need to just look at the top healthy diets for weight management that are based on science. All of these diets have similar qualities: They are not only loaded with whole fruits, veggies, and whole grains, which are rich in nutrients and stomach-filling fiber in every bite, but they also limit higher calorie sweets and treats on a daily basis.

Here are tips and resources for you to take control of your diet and the health of your entire family:

- Don’t buy bakery items in super-sized packages that are available at wholesale warehouse stores. If you want to bring home a treat weekly for the family, buy a normal size package from the supermarket. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Most importantly, don’t replenish it until the following week.

- Do buy fruits and veggies at these warehouse stores so there are tons of them in the house for the entire week. Stock your freezer with frozen produce (without added sugars and fat) for backup during the week. Use your supermarket store circular to snag the produce and other healthy foods on sale each week. Fruits and veggies are Mother Nature’s finest as they don’t contain added sugars but are loaded with filling fiber. The more of them you have on hand in the house, the more that will be eaten by everyone.

- Move as much as you can during day.

- Drink more tap water throughout the day. Infuse your glass with a slice of fruit for some kick. You will save tons on your weekly food budget by buying less bottled beverages.

- Find five new healthy, quick-to-prepare recipes to slim down your repertoire of meal options.

Here are several free resources to help you do that:

Kids Eatright
MyPlate
Produce for Better Health Foundation

Perhaps the sequel to “Fed Up” will be “Take Control.” It clearly sounds more empowering.

Follow Joan on Twitter at: JoanSalgeBlake