Does a healthy diet include avoidance of foods with any type of sugar or sweetener listed among the top three ingredients on the food label? What are the benefits of eating whole foods, as opposed...

Does a healthy diet include avoidance of foods with any type of sugar or sweetener listed among the top three ingredients on the food label? What are the benefits of eating whole foods, as opposed to simple carbohydrates?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sugar is one of the hardest foods to avoid, as more than 70% of the food supply in the United States contains caloric or low-calorie sweeteners, or both. 

In fact, sugar is often listed under other names in the ingredients of food products. The New York Times lists the different names of sugar that are found on food labels here. Sugar is found in cereals, baked goods, infant formula, and prepared entrees/foods. Most disturbingly, more than 90% of cold cereals in the United States contain added sugars.

Basically, sugar is found in many foods Americans like to purchase when they shop at the grocery store. Ironically, the same counterpart products in health food stores also contain high levels of sugar. There is also a level of risk associated with ingesting sugars like agave that are touted by health enthusiasts as "safe" sugars. 

This is because our bodies do not differentiate between the sources of glucose or fructose we consume; it processes all sugars the same way. So, whether we ingest agave nectar, white sugar, high-fructose syrup, or honey, our body treats them all as sugars. To answer your question, it is possible to avoid ingesting high levels of sugar just by changing our purchasing habits. Although we cannot avoid all sugars (our body needs a small amount to function properly), a healthy diet will include avoidance of foods with any type of sugar or sweetener listed among the top three ingredients on the food label. 

Unfortunately, these types of foods may be the hardest to avoid, as many consumers purchase them on a regular basis. Some of these foods are peanut butter, ketchup, energy bars, BBQ sauce, various snacks, and sodas. These foods are only harmful, however, if large quantities are ingested on a daily basis. I think moderation is key here. 

One of the best ways to avoid added sugars is to change our purchasing habits and to include more whole foods in our diet. For example, we may choose to purchase natural peanut butter (which contains no added sugars) instead of regular peanut butter. Regular peanut butter (whether sold in regular grocery stores or health food stores) may contain white sugar, maltodextrin, palm sugar, cane juice, or agave syrup. Some of us may also choose to change our eating habits; we may add more whole foods to our diet such as whole grains as well as unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

Whole grains such as brown rice, whole barley, whole rye, bulgur wheat, millet and quinoa are known as complex carbohydrates. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In contrast, foods rich in simple carbohydrates or sugars such as cake, candy, and sodas can raise our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Not all simple sugars are harmful, however; those occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables are good for our general health. Plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in our diet can aid in digestion and contribute to better heart health. 

An Iowa Women's Health Study showed that women who consumed two or more servings of whole grains a day were 30% less likely to die from noncardiovascular, noncancer inflammatory diseases. Research from The American Institute for Cancer Research shows that greater consumption of whole grains/foods can lead to lower risks for colorectal and other cancers. Additionally, a diet rich in whole foods is extremely helpful in any weight control plan. The American Institute for Cancer Research maintains that excess body fat can contribute to a higher risk for 9 types of cancers.