At the NC Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, North Carolina, university and corporate scientists are devoted to identifying connections between fruits, vegetables, and the beneficial nutrients they have to offer in a daily diet. A series of articles over the next six weeks will break down the fundamentals of the new dietary guidelines and illustrate how to implement the recommendations into daily life.
Choosing natural sugars over artificial sugars
New dietary guidelines for the next five years were released on January 7, and the latest advice from experts in the US Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments revolves around healthy eating as a pattern. However, understanding what a healthy eating pattern looks like and how to manage a healthy eating lifestyle is often not very clear, especially when nutrition “rules” frequently change.
A key component of the new dietary guidelines encourages reducing the consumption of food and beverages with added, processed or refined sugars. This does not mean avoiding every sweet food in order to stay healthy. Rather, this guideline suggests the choice of a granny smith apple over a bag of candy, and encourages people to try more foods that contain naturally occurring sugars as opposed to those with processed or refined sugar.
According to the American Heart Association, naturally occurring sugars are sugars that are naturally in fruit or vegetables. Processed sugars are added to foods or beverages either during processing or preparation. These added sugars can be in any form, from the sugar added to a morning cup of coffee to chemically manufactured sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
The new guidelines specifically state that no more than ten percent of calories per day should come from processed or added sugar. To put this guideline into perspective, consider that an average can of soda has about 39 grams of processed sugar, which equals 151 calories, and no nutritional value. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet and the new sugar guideline, 2oo calories or less of processed or added sugars, one can of soda uses up 75 percent of the daily limit of added sugars. In comparison, an orange has 12 grams of sugar and a cup of strawberries three grams, both fruits also contain fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Depending on age and activity level, it may be healthier to consume less than 2,000 calories. See the “Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level” here.
The science behind eating naturally-occurring sugars
These recommendations are based on scientific evidence such as the research conducted at the NCRC. A 2015 study from the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI) and Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory clearly demonstrated increased performance, increased recovery time, improved energy, and an enhanced ability to focus mentally when cyclists ate bananas or pears with water before exercising.
“Many athletes train and race without eating or drinking anything other than water,” said David Nieman, DrPH, from Appalachian. “There are multiple exercise performance and recovery benefits from ingesting sugar, especially when that sugar comes from fruit.”
Nieman also teamed up with DNI Director and Dole Food Company Vice President of Nutrition Research Nicholas
Gillitt, PhD, in 2012 to show that bananas are just as effective as sports drinks and a healthier option.
“Bananas contain natural sugar as well as potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6,” Gillitt said. “If you tell athletes to fill up with sugar before exercising, you want them to use the right foods, and bananas are the right foods.”
Sweet potatoes, in addition to bananas, are another example of a naturally sweet and nutritious food to eat instead of foods with added, processed sugar. Scientists from the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the NCRC explore the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables. Their recent study on sweet potatoes emphasized the disease-fighting phytochemical profile and the nutritious vitamin content of this vegetable. Despite their naturally sweet taste, sweet potatoes have a surprisingly low glycemic index.
“When a fruit or vegetable is eaten, these natural compounds protect our cells against the ravages of free radicals and provide anti-inflammatory benefits that help to attenuate human disease incidence and progression,” said Mary Ann Lila, PhD, and PHHI Director.
Athletes and non-athletes alike benefit from limiting their intake of added, processed sugar to ten percent of calories per day. To achieve this goal, the new guidelines suggest healthy eating patterns such as Mediterranean-style and vegetarian. Both eating patterns are nutrient dense and embrace specific types and proportions of food that are low in added sugars as well as fat and sodium.
The Mediterranean-style eating pattern includes a lot of fruits and seafood and less dairy than other healthy eating patterns. The vegetarian eating pattern, in addition to the obvious omission of meat, poultry, and seafood, contains mostly legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. For more information on these eating patterns and how to implement them into daily life, see the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines website.
Aubrey Mast, MPH, integrative health coach, and extension associate for nutrition at the NCSU PHHI, encourages people to add healthier, naturally occurring sugar in their diet over added, processed sugar, by “just swapping items out of the pantry.” Instead of refined sugar in the kitchen buy and use
- raw sugar
- black strap molasses
The DNI’s Chef Mark Allison, who is also director of culinary nutrition, focuses on developing recipes that are low in refined sugar and high in flavor. They contain a variety of fruits and vegetables, all of which contain fiber and a “host of nutrients” in addition to being naturally sweet. For examples of Allison’s and Mast’s recipes such as a delicious fruit and vegetable smoothie, fresh salsa, a melon and shrimp salad or cranberry walnut energy bars, check the NC Research Campus website.
View the new dietary guidelines and the recommended dietary patterns, whether it is Mediterranean, vegetarian or another suggested diet, as a tool to lower the added, processed sugar in your diet and aid in the exploration of new, tasty foods that have multiple benefits for nutrition, exercise, and long-term health.
By Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing