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Easter candy can quickly add up

{guest post By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.}

With Easter just around the corner, baskets are filling up with candy for kids. Sugar-packed treats are also part of the celebration for many adults.

Easter candy

Pop a Peep bunny or chick in your mouth and you’ve just enjoyed a teaspoon and a half of sugar. Sink your teeth into a and you’ve had 5 teaspoons. Four jelly beans equal a teaspoon of sugar.

It’s easy to see how Easter candies quickly load up our diets with added sugars.

Sugar can be natural or added. Natural sugars are found in whole fruits, vegetables and milk products. Added sugars are put into foods during manufacturing or at the table. Added sugars have many names that include corn syrup, date sugar, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, maltose, molasses, sucrose and fruit juice concentrates.

The American Heart Association and the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting how much added sugar we consume. These calories crowd out other foods that provide important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that we need to keep us healthy.

Eating too much sugar can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and obesity. Added sugars can also increase inflammation by releasing inflammatory messengers called cytokines.

Most Americans eat 22 teaspoons or a ½ cup of added sugars a day. That adds up to 156 pounds a year, or 15 10-pound bags. The American Heart Association recommends only 6 teaspoons of added sugars each day for women and children and 9 teaspoons for men.

Reading food labels can help you see how much sugar you’re eating. However, it is sometimes difficult to decipher how much of that sugar is natural or added since the amount listed in the nutrition facts includes both. If you don’t see any of the names for various forms of sugar, then the total sugar comes from natural sugars. For candy, the total sugar is added sugar. It’s more difficult for a product like yogurt that has natural sugars from milk and usually has some added sugar. The label also lists grams so remember that four grams equals a teaspoon of sugar.

We like things sweet because we are born with a desire for sweet foods. Foods that are high in sugar and fat release “reward chemicals” in our brain and give us a strong desire to eat more.

This Easter season, start something new by rewarding your family with some alternatives to candy. Then rely more on the natural sugars in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products that also provide vitamins, minerals and many phytonutrients to keep your immune system strong and help improve or prevent many chronic diseases.

SIDEBAR: Easter basket alternatives

Create new traditions this Easter that include less added sugar. Try filling Easter baskets with fun alternatives to candy:

Bunny ears
Balloons
Bubbles
Colored pencils or crayons
Coloring books
Stickers
Sidewalk chalk
Toothbrush
Toys for the tub, beach or sandbox
Squirt gun
Stamps and ink pads
Jump rope
Hair bow/barrettes
Fun socks or tights
Gift card for phone apps or music
Seed starter kits
Baseball or tennis balls
Yo-yo
Bubble bath
Nail polish
Sunglasses
Movie tickets or DVD
Zoo admission

Happy Easter!

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health

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