AUBURN, Alabama — Think you’re doing yourself a favor by indulging in fat-free cookies, nonfat yogurt and low-fat cakes and pies? Depending on how many sweets you’re eating, you may be contributing to unwanted pounds with every bite of that fat-free chocolate chip cookie.
Karen Softley, a regional nutrition agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says popular low-fat and fat-free foods, especially sweets, may be low in fat but high in sugar.
To keep foods with low or no fat palatable, food manufacturers load them with sugar. Sugar doesn’t contain fat, but it is high in calories. All those extra calories, even in a low-fat diet, can cause weight gain.
The problems don’t stop with your waistline. Sugar also causes tooth decay.
Too Much Sugar
Recent studies have shown that too much sugar may actually lower a person’s good (HDL) cholesterol, making him more prone to having a heart attack or stroke.
Kinds of Sugar
Softley says there are two kinds of sugar – naturally occurring and added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables. Added sugars are found in white, brown or powdered sugars and in corn syrup solids. They are also found in processed foods such as cereals, soft drinks and sweet, snack foods, she says.
“Everything should be eaten in moderation,” she added. “An occasional cookie or piece of cake is okay. Overeating sweets and fatty foods is more of a problem than the foods themselves. If you’re eating too much fat-free foods, you’re still going to gain weight.”
And chances are, you’re consuming too much sugar.
One teaspoon of sugar contains about 16 calories. A 12-ounce can of soda contains 9 teaspoons of sugar. That’s about 144 empty calories – that can quickly add up to unwanted extra pounds, Softly adds.
To cut back on sugar, Softley suggests tossing a few pieces of fresh fruit into your cereal in the mornings instead of a few spoonfuls of sugar. Opt for unsweetened tea with lemon and diet drinks, instead of sugary teas, lemonades and colas. If you must have a sweetener, try a sugar substitute.
Read food labels to see just how much sugar foods contain.
Sources of Sugar
“Good sources of natural sugar are starchy foods, such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes and starchy vegetables such as carrots,” Softley says. “Steer clear of added sugars, which are found in jams, jellies, syrups, colas and candy.”
Softley says moderation is the key.
“All foods have a place in your diet,” she says. “No one food is all bad or all good.”