As a new year gets underway, many of us resolve to eat healthier. A step in the right direction, the Food and Drug Administration says, is to reduce our intake of added sugars, which now amount to an average 16 percent of the total calories we eat and drink in a day. Behind the scenes at Wegmans Food Markets, nutritionists and others are working to help by:
reducing added sugars where possible in Wegmans brand products
introducing fun, delicious new products with little or no added sugar, and
educating customers about the issue
“For more than a decade, the Wegmans Eat Well, Live Well approach has helped customers live healthier, better lives by showing them how to steer personal choices in healthier directions, and by offering plenty of easy, delicious and affordable foods, menu ideas, and recipes to use as building blocks of a healthy lifestyle,” says Wegmans Nutrition and Product Labeling Manager Jane Andrews, MS RD. “The work we’re doing now to bring attention to added sugars is the latest chapter in this story.”
One of the first things to understand is the difference between added sugars versus naturally occurring ones, and the winter 2015 edition of Wegmans Menu Magazine has a one-page spread on the issue written by Andrews. “Naturally occurring sugars like the fructose in fruits that makes them naturally sweet aren’t the problem. Despite their sweetness, fruits are linked to less heart disease and diabetes. And milk’s natural sugars come along with lots of good-for-you nutrients. Even veggies have a touch of sugar. We’re not taking aim at those,” she says. The article explains the basics of the added-sugar issue:
What’s an added sugar? Any sugar added during food or drink preparation or consumption. In addition to white table sugar, it can include brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and a few other forms of sugar.
Where are they found? Soft drinks, desserts, and candy, but also in some cereals, sauces, and other foods.
Why worry? The ‘empty calories’ in added sugars don’t give us nutrients we need, but do add calories to the meal and inches to our waistlines. Large amounts of added sugars can raise blood fats and create swings in blood sugar. Added sugar also can train kids to avoid or refuse not-as-sweet foods.
How much is okay? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women, 9 teaspoons for men. (Typically, women now consume 15 teaspoons a day, and men, 21 teaspoons, according to the AHA.)
How to cut down: Choose healthy snacks with little or no added sugars. Quench with water instead of sugary beverages. Read ingredients on food labels and check ingredients in recipes. (Menu estimates added sugars in all of its recipes, beginning with the current issue.) In recipes, try reducing sugar by a third, and see if anyone notices.
The take-home message: You don’t need to eliminate all added sugar, you should just try to bring it down to reasonable levels. There’s little harm for most people in drizzling a spoon of honey over a cup of yogurt, or sprinkling a little brown sugar over oatmeal, or enjoying from time to time a small treat like a couple of cookies.
More products that are fun and delicious, yet still sensible
Offering customers foods, beverages and meal and snack ideas that help them lower their consumption of added sugars is the other part of Wegmans’ strategy. The company has begun cutting added sugar in some existing products. “Our Wegmans Greek yogurt already had less sugar than regular flavored yogurts,” says Andrews, “but we are now adding less sugar than before in the organic varieties and they still taste great. We’re also reformulating some bottled sauces to have less added sugar. We’re updating Wegmans products across the store to cut added sugar where we can, while preserving the taste appeal customers expect.”
With bakery products, reducing the size of the serving is another way to cut added sugar. “Changing a recipe for baked goods can be tricky. There’s a limit to how much you can cut down sugar without noticeably affecting taste and texture,” says Andrews. “So another route is to make serving sizes smaller. We now offer lots of petite pastries and bakery items, so customers can still enjoy one of their favorite treats, but in a smaller portion. We have mini croissants, mini sweet rolls, mini cheesecakes and more.”
Drinking more of the right beverages
Sugary beverages are a significant source of added sugars. A 12-ounce can of a soft drink has about 8 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s about as much as a candy bar, or a slice of pie or cake, or four sandwich cookies. Thus, one of the easiest ways to reduce added sugars is to quench with water instead of sugary beverages. There’s tap water and bottled spring water, of course. There are also Wegmans Wonder Waters -- unsweetened bottled water that wakes up the palate with a hint of flavor like lemon, tangerine, lime, blackberry, blueberry, passion fruit, cucumber and pineapple. Other healthy options: Wegmans Aqua Italian Sparkling Mineral Water, or Wegmans Sparkling Water in unsweetened flavors such as Tangerine/Lime, Lime Mint, Mixed Berry, Cherry Vanilla.
For tea drinkers, bottled varieties of Wegmans Just Tea (no sugar or artificial sweeteners added) come in flavors like green tea, green jasmine, hibiscus, or oolong.
Healthier snacking, too
Americans today are eating fewer sit-down meals at home. Half of all “meal occasions” are now actually snacks or mini-meals, often eaten soon after they’ve been purchased, according to research by the Hartman Group research consultants. “Since snacks play such a key role in getting people through their busy day,” Andrews says, “Wegmans wants to offer customers lots of easy, healthy, and affordable snack options that are a nutritious alternative to candy or a sweetened drink from the vending machine. Our fresh-made snack packages in the store have little or no added sugar, and are made from real foods, like fruits, vegetables, hummus, salsa, Greek yogurt, organic turkey, whole-grains crackers and wraps.”
The sweet bottom line: Reducing your intake of added sugar can be an easy step to take toward making 2015 a healthier year for you and your family.