Do the Math for Your Health
I’ve changed the way I eat in small, but important, ways once again this year.
The changes began with my goal of eating more unprocessed whole grains.
At first, I moved from cereal made from processed whole wheat (Grape Nuts, made from whole grain wheat flour) to granola, made from unprocessed oats.
The best way to get unprocessed oats is by eating oatmeal, but most mornings I prefer to eat yogurt (unsweetened Greek) and I enjoy adding crunchy cereal to it (along with nuts, fresh berries, or both). On other mornings, I pour almond milk into the bowl instead of yogurt.
I tried muesli for the cereal part, which is kind of like eating uncooked oatmeal, and not delicious like most granola. Then I switched to granola after finding several brands with relatively small amounts of added sugar. I went with that for a few months.
Sugar has become the “public-health enemy number one” of foods over the past couple of years and my brief foray into granola-eating helped me to begin to really understand how much sugar is in processed foods.
My wife taught me one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams of sugar. So, when you look at a food label, you divide the number of grams by four to calculate the number of teaspoons of sugar. For example, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about four teaspoons of sugar.
This is the reason I, and many others, rail against drinking soda. There are 39 grams of sugar in one 12-ounce can of Coke. That means each time you drink a Coke you are eating the equivalent of about 10 teaspoons of sugar. (Would you add 10 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee?)
When you look at the amount of sugar on a food label, you have to remember to do one more piece of math. You have to take into account serving size.
For example, I was buying a granola that listed four grams of sugar per serving. One day I realized the brand of granola I had settled upon listed a serving size of a quarter of a cup. That’s 16 grams for a cup.
Meanwhile, another granola I had looked at and not bought lists nine grams of sugar—but its serving size is two-thirds of a cup, which is a much more realistic serving size—and when you do the math, that’s 13.5 grams of sugar in a cup. So, it’s less than the other one.
This is the same kind of math we used to do, but now most supermarkets do for us, by posting the unit price of items—so we know, for example, without doing the math: 25 rolls of toilet paper for $10 is a better deal than 10 rolls of the exact same product for $5.
Granola can often taste like dessert, and there is a reason for it. That led me to continue to search for an alternative. As a result, I found a muesli with unprocessed wheat and oats, and some sweetness from raisins and pieces of dried dates (no sugar added and no preservatives). I add blueberries to the muesli and yogurt most days and find the combo to be delicious—yet not delicious in the way granola can be, so I don’t snack on it at night, which I had begun to do with the granola. I used to eat blueberries regularly, but had fallen away from that for no good reason, so bringing them back into my diet was not hard to do.
Along with the Grape Nuts-to-granola-to-muesli change, I began to watch my consumption of added sugars overall. As a result, I cut out some other foods I had been eating, and even began to lose my taste for foods that are too sweet. For example, I found cookies a coworker recently baked and brought in to the office to be a near shock when I bit into it. Its incredible sweetness was too much for my palate. I know I formerly would not have felt that way.
I’ve also moved from a 72% dark chocolate I had been getting at Trader Joe’s for many years, to their 85% version. The drop in the number of grams of added sugar from that change is very significant. And savoring the chocolate taste, rather than the sugar taste, has been a nice change. (A chocolate connoisseur friend taught me that years ago, yet I hadn’t been following his chocolate eating lessons until this switch.)
What are some of the healthy changes you have made? And, when you look at food labels, do you look at serving sizes for an accurate analysis? Join the conversation with your comments…