Last summer a panel of scientists met to discuss dietary guidelines for Americans. They suggested that we shrink added sugars to less than 6% of our daily caloric intake and this has many people asking where they should try to cut back. Even though the FDA didn’t adopt this measure, leaving it at 10% for the updated guidelines, we can all try to lower our sugar consumption.
For someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, staying under 6% leaves less than 120 calories, about 7 teaspoons, of added sugar in your diet. Keep in mind that “Added sugars don’t provide any nutritional value other than calories,” says Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the chair of the nutrition department at the University of North Carolina.
it is important to look at the studies that have informed the previous guidelines on sugar consumption. One study found that children who ate candy did not have increased blood pressure, cholesterol, or other metabolic risk factors. Scientists were amazed and considered these findings too good to be true. But, then it came out that the National Confectioners Association funded the research! This trade group represents the makers of Skittles, Hershey’s, and Butterfingers. The candy group not only paid for the study but was also involved in analyzing the data and writing the manuscript.
In 2017 the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that stated the “Guidelines [to reduce] dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence.” It turns out that the “study” was funded by the International Life Sciences Institute, a food and agriculture industry front group founded by a Coca-Cola executive. The sponsors of this study include Coca-cola, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, ExxonMobile, General Mills, Hershey Foods, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Pfizer, and Proctor & Gamble. The lead author was on the board of Tate & Lyle, one of the largest makers of high-fructose corn syrup.
Sugar executives acknowledged a link between sugar consumption and chronic disease back in the 1950s and ’60s. There were no conflict-of-interest disclosure requirements for researchers in the 1960s. So, the studies, usually conducted by reputable schools like Harvard, received millions of dollars from the food industry to manufacture positive research on sugar consumption. At one point, the New England Journal of Medicine, dismissing documents that showed sugar might cause both heart problems and cancer, buried this data and claimed the real culprit was saturated fat.
Sugar has scientifically been linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. In February 2001, The Lancet published a large independent study that found:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages increase obesity rates in kids.
- A child’s likelihood of being overweight increased in direct proportion to the number of soft drinks consumed.
- For every can of soda a child drank each day, their odds of becoming obese rose by 60%.
We also know that sugar aggravates the lining of the digestive tract, making the immune system more susceptible to viruses. It also feeds any pathogenic organisms you may have on board such as yeast, parasites, or bacteria. Sugar is addictive. Sugar can create mood swings, drain your energy and worsen acne.
Usually the nutrition research that is published in major journals is legit. But, the food industry has a strong voice with lots and lots of money supporting it. So, before you buy into a headline that seems to be too good to be true, ask yourself who paid for the study. Does it mention who funded it? If it is a study on breakfast cereal and weight gain, did the National Institute of Health or Kellogg’s pay for it?
Nearly all labels will now list “added sugars”. At restaurants, added sugars are harder to find. Chains have to disclose only total sugars, which include the naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk.
Cargill’s website says its “Formulators [are] looking to develop great-tasting products with less sugar and satisfying mouthfeel..”. Companies cannot just swap sugar for a low-calorie sweetener because sugar adds more than sweetness. Trevor Nichols, a food scientist at ingredient supplier Brenntag North America, told Dairy Foods magazine that sugar is “also responsible for texture as a whole, holding water and delaying ice crystal formation, as well as mouthfeel and viscosity.”
Low calorie sweeteners are not always a good alternative. Stevia leaf extract and erythritol are two low-calorie sweeteners. Stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar so you only need a small amount. Many of the other sweeteners are poorly absorbed and cause tummy problems. Sugar alcohols like erythritol, maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol, contain neither sugar or alcohol, and have been around for years. Watch out – “Sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect,” says Emily Haller, a dietitian at the University of Michigan’s Taubman GI Clinic.
The best way to avoid hidden sugars in your meals is to make them at home. It is easy to underestimate how much you’re actually consuming until you are adding the sugar yourself. Many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn’t even consider to be sweet. Products marketed as “light” or “low fat” often contain more sugar than their regular counterparts.
*4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon*
Like many other low fat products, low fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavor. For example, a single cup of low fat yogurt can contain over 45 grams of sugar, which is about 11 teaspoons.
Two tablespoons of barbecue sauce contains around 9 grams of sugar.
A single tablespoon of ketchup contains nearly 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Fruit juice does contain some vitamins and minerals but they come with a large dose of sugar and very little fiber. It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly. There can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a Coke.
All spaghetti sauces will contain some natural sugar given that they’re made with tomatoes. Many spaghetti sauces contain added sugar as well. Check the label and pick one that either doesn’t have sugar on the ingredient list or has it listed very close to the bottom.
Sports drinks are designed to hydrate and fuel. For this reason they contain high amounts of added sugars that can be quickly absorbed and used for energy. A standard 20-ounce bottle of a sports drink can contain 37.9 grams, or 9.5 teaspoons, of added sugar and 198 calories. These drinks are linked to obesity and metabolic disease.
Granola is often marketed as a low fat health food, despite being high in both calories and sugar. The main ingredient in granola is usually oats. Plain rolled oats are a well-balanced cereal containing carbs, protein, fat, and fiber. The oats in granola have been combined with added sweeteners – 1 cup of granola contains around 400–500 calories and nearly 5–7 teaspoons of sugar.
In some coffeehouse chains, a large flavored coffee or coffee drink can contain 45 grams of sugar, if not much more. That’s equivalent to about 11 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.
Most commercially prepared iced teas contains around 35 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving. This is about the same as a bottle of Coke.
While there are some healthier protein bars on the market, many contain around 20 grams of added sugar, making their nutritional content similar to that of a candy bar.
Vitaminwater typically contains around 100 calories and 30 grams of sugar.
The vegetables in soups have naturally occurring sugars, which are fine to eat given that they’re usually present in small amounts and alongside lots of other beneficial nutrients. However, many commercially prepared soups have a lot of added ingredients, including sugar. To check for added sugars in your soup, look at the ingredient list for names such as:
- barley malt
- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other syrups
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar.
Breakfast cereals, particularly those marketed at children, have lots of added sugar. Some contain 12 grams, or 3 teaspoons of sugar in a small, less than a cup, serving.
Canned fruit is peeled and preserved in sugary syrup. This processing strips the fruit of its fiber and adds a lot of unnecessary sugar to what should be a healthy snack.
Bitter melon, or Goya, is also referred to as bitter gourd, Karela, or Balsam Pear. it is a tropical vine that belongs to the gourd family and is closely related to zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber. It is the most bitter of all fruits and vegetables.
Bitter melon is a staple in many types of Asian cuisine. The Chinese variety is typically long, pale green, and covered with wart-like bumps and the Indian variety is more narrow and has pointed ends with rough, jagged spikes on the rind. The plant gets its name from its taste. It becomes more and more bitter as it ripens.
Bitter melon is great at lowering the body’s blood sugar. This is because bitter melon has properties that act like insulin, which helps bring glucose into the cells for energy. The consumption of bitter melon can help your cells utilize glucose and move it to your liver, muscles, and fat. This insulin-like activity may help to protect against insulin resistance and keep your blood sugar from rising.
In recent years, several studies confirmed the fruit’s role in blood sugar control. A 3-month study in 24 adults with diabetes showed that taking 2,000 mg of bitter melon daily decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, a test used to measure blood sugar control over three months. Another study in 40 people with diabetes found that taking 2,000 mg per day of bitter melon for 4 weeks led to a modest reduction in blood sugar levels. Bitter melon also significantly decreased levels of fructosamine, another marker of long-term blood sugar control.
The melon may also be able to help your body retain nutrients by blocking their conversion to glucose that ends up in your blood stream.
Bitter melon is a great source of several key nutrients.
One cup of raw bitter melon provides:
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams – about 8% of your daily needs
- Vitamin C: 93% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin A: 44% of the RDI
- Folate: 17% of the RDI
- Potassium: 8% of the RDI
- Zinc: 5% of the RDI
- Iron: 4% of the RDI
Bitter melon can be helpful in ridding the body of kidney stones through naturally breaking them down. Bitter melon reduces high acid that help produce painful kidney stones. Infuse bitter melon powder with water and sip the tea.
Bitter melon is a good source of catechin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid – powerful antioxidant compounds that can help protect your cells against damage.
Research suggests that bitter melon contains certain compounds with cancer-fighting properties. For example, one test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract was effective at killing cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lung, and nasopharynx – the area located behind the nose at the back of your throat. Another test-tube study had similar findings, reporting that bitter melon extract was able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells while also promoting cancer cell death. (These studies were performed using concentrated amounts of bitter melon extract on individual cells in a laboratory.)
Several animal studies found that bitter melon may decrease cholesterol levels to support overall heart health.
One study in rats on a high-cholesterol diet observed that administering bitter melon extract led to significant decreases in levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Another study noted that giving rats a bitter melon extract significantly reduced cholesterol levels compared to a placebo. Higher doses of bitter melon showed the greatest decrease.
How to Buy
Many Asian grocery stores sell bitter melon as a whole food.
- Select bitter melons that are small, bright green, firm, and without blemish or mold.
- Bright dark green specimens will be less bitter tasting.
Bitter melon is also available as a powder and in capsules.
How to Store
Keep fresh bitter melon wrapped in a tea towel in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
Bitter melons do not freeze well.
How to Cook
Bitter melon has a sharp flavor but works well in many dishes.
- Bitter melon does not need to be peeled if sliced thinly. But you can trim and peel it if you prefer.
- Seeds can be removed or not; they may bring an additional bitterness to a serving especially as the gourd matures. To remove the seeds, cut the gourd into slices and pop out both seeds and pith with your finger, leaving a green ring, or halve the gourd lengthwise and scoop out the seed.
- Bitter melon can be sliced crosswise into 1-inch or thinner rounds before cooking.
- To stuff bitter melon, halve crosswise and ream out the core of seeds and pith.
- To draw the bitterness from the bitter melon, slice and liberally salt it and set aside for 30 minutes. You can then rinse and press or squeeze the slices, and press again, and pat dry before using. If the bitter melon is still too bitter blanch the slices in boiling water–1 teaspoon of baking to two quarts of water until the melon turns a bright emerald color then plunge it in cold water, and drain before cooking.
Bitter melon can be enjoyed raw or cooked. All of the plant is edible, but some people find it too bitter. To reduce the bitterness try:
- scraping the rough surface
- removing the seeds
- cooking it with vegetables such as potatoes or onions to dilute the taste
Ways to enjoy bitter melon:
- Juice bitter melon along with a few other fruits and vegetables.
- Add to stir-fry.
- Sauté bitter melon alongside tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
- Combine seedless bitter melon with your choice of dressing and garnish a salad.
- Use it in curries.
- Eat bitter melon stuffed with rice.
Bitter Melon, Potato, and Eggplant Indian-Style Stir Fry
- 2 small potatoes
- 3 medium-sized slender Japanese variety eggplants
- 1 medium-sized bitter melon
- 2 tablespoons oil (preferably mustard oil)
- 1 teaspoon panch phoron (*Bengali 5-Spice)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- Salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
*5 Bengali Spice
- 1/3 cup fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup black mustard seed
- 3 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fenugreek seed
Combine the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, oregano, and fenugreek seeks in a non-stick skillet over medium heat; roast the spice mixture until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Spread the spices onto a large platter to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
- Dice the eggplants and set aside. Peel the potatoes and dice and set aside (note, if you wish, you can use organic red skinned potatoes and leave the skin on).
- Dice the bitter melon and leave any visible seeds.
- Heat the oil on medium heat for about 1 minute and add in the panch phoron (Bengali 5 spice) and wait until the spice crackles.
- Add in the mixed diced vegetables and stir well.
- Shake over the turmeric and the salt and mix well. Cover and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes on low heat, remove the cover and check the mixture for softness. The potatoes should be lightly crisped and soft.
- Stir the cayenne pepper and mix well. Cook for another minute and serve with rice and lentils for a classic Bengali style first course.
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