New website challenges Manitobans to count their sugar | Winnipeg Health Region

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New website challenges Manitobans to count their sugar

Photo of bottles of flavoured water.
Photo of Diana Doyle-Zebrun. AMANDA NASH
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, April 6, 2018

Think that bottle of flavoured water is healthier for you than a can of pop?

Think again.

You may be surprised to learn that quenching your thirst with a bottle of flavoured water is really not much better for you than gulping down a bottle of cola.

The reason? Both products contain relatively high amounts of added sugar.    

In fact, many of the flavoured waters and energy drinks on the market today contain a lot more sugar than you may realize. Some are even marketed as healthy choices.

This matters because how much sugar we consume and how we consume it can have a significant impact on our health. For example, fruit, vegetables, milk, grains and other plant-based foods contain naturally occurring sugar. These foods are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fibre so eating them helps us feel full and satisfied and nourish the body.

Added sugars are different. These sugars, which include glucose, fructose, sucrose, brown sugar, honey and syrups, are usually added to foods or beverages during the manufacturing process. They provide extra calories but few or no nutritional benefits, and consuming them doesn’t lead to satiety. The main source of added sugar in our diet is sugary drinks. They are consumed quickly, delivering a large volume of sugar to the body in a short amount of time.

Studies show that people who consume too much added sugar are at greater risk for a variety of health issues, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and tooth decay. The good news is 80 per cent of early heart disease and stroke can be prevented by adopting healthy behaviours, like reducing your intake of added sugars.

So how much added sugar is too much?

Heart & Stroke recommends that Canadians limit their consumption of added sugar to just five to ten per cent of their total daily calories. For an average 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, ten per cent is about 48 grams, or 12 teaspoons (cubes) of added sugar each day. To put this into perspective:
           

  • One bottle flavoured water: 9 tsp added sugar
  • One can of pop: 10 tsp added sugar
  • One medium flavoured latte: 11 tsp added sugar
  • One energy drink: 19 tsp added sugar


Clearly, it can be helpful to track how much added sugar you consume over time. As it turns out, Heart & Stroke, with financial support from the Carolyn Sifton Foundation and Cando Rail Services, has been able to develop a novel way for Manitobans to do just that. It’s called the Count Your Cubes challenge, and here’s how it works.

Participants sign up for the challenge, which is endorsed by the Manitoba Dental Association, by visiting www.countyourcubes.ca. Once you’re registered, you will get access to a personal electronic diary and a menu of beverages. Each time you have a beverage, you tap on the appropriate icon, and the website calculates the number of sugar cubes consumed. For example, if you tap the icon for one large energy drink, the website automatically registers 20 cubes on your calendar.

The idea is to calculate your added sugar intake in the first week by consuming beverages as you normally would, and then try to reduce that number in the weeks that follow. As you count your cubes, you can access the website’s resources to learn more about how you can reduce your added sugar intake. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Look for alternatives: Choosing water over sugar-laden drinks is always a good decision. Spice up your water by adding herbs or berries like basil and strawberry. You can also try carbonated water with a splash of citrus instead of pop. Plain milk, and unsweetened milk alternatives are also good choices.

Give cinnamon a shot: Do you need a little something to give your tea or coffee a lift? No problem. Try adding nutmeg or cinnamon instead of sugar or honey.

Watch out for fruit juice: It’s a little known fact that there can be as much sugar in natural fruit juice as there is in pop. Sugar content of some drinks is obvious, but other drinks contain hidden sugars in the ingredients. Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice.

These are just a few of the tips you will find at www.countyourcubes.ca. Why not log on now and take the challenge to learn more?  

Amanda Nash is Health Promotion and Nutrition Manager for Heart & Stroke Manitoba. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, April 6, 2018.

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