Weighing in on Sugar-Free September

By Andy De Santis on

When the Canadian Cancer Society asked me to be one of the ambassadors for Sugar-Free September, I gave it some serious thought.

The reason being that I don’t necessarily believe there is a single ingredient or component or food in our diet that is solely responsible for the health issues in this country.

Yet the more I mulled it over the more I came to realize that, beyond the amazing cause associated with this initiative, I do believe there is real value in Canadians having a better understanding of all the different sources of calories we are putting into our bodies.

The reality we face in this country is that many of us consume more calories than our body’s need, which can ultimately contribute to an unhealthy weight and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer.

While sugar is not the sole cause of the health issues this country faces, we cannot deny that moderating the consumption of the discretionary foods that contain large amounts of added sugar is one of the many good steps we can take to help improve our overall dietary pattern.

So what do I mean by discretionary foods?

Well, a discretionary food can be thought of simply as a food that does not fit into one of the four food groups.

We use the term discretionary to describe them because, quite frankly, they are not a necessary part of a balanced diet.

Chips are a great example, pop is another.

When we look closely at Health & Statistics Canada Data on discretionary food consumption, we find that many of the ones we consume most frequently, do tend to be high in added sugars.

Here are some great examples:

  1. Soft Drinks - Which represent the #1 discretionary calorie source in North America.
  2. Salad Dressings – Which may be high in calories from both fat and added sugars.
  3. Syrups/Sweeteners - Such as honey, maple syrup and jam. These foods are frequently used and are no healthier for you than good old fashioned sugar.
  4. Chocolate Bars - Which tend to derive most of their calories from both added sugars and fat.  

Other commonly consumed discretionary foods that tend to be high in sugars include most desserts, ice creams, candy and baked goods like donuts, muffins, cookies and pies.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all foods that can fit into a healthy dietary pattern, but I think there is some value in stepping away from them and becoming more intimately aware of just how big of a role they assume in your consumption patterns.

Final thoughts

All foods can fit into a balanced diet, but the reality remains that none of the healthiest and most important foods for human consumption (which I would describe as fruits, vegetables, unprocessed whole grains, nuts, seeds & legumes) contain added sugar.

My real hope for the Sugar-Free September initiative, beyond successful fundraising for cancer research, is that all those who take part will learn an appreciation for incorporating many of these unprocessed whole foods into their diet.

You can visit Andy’s website here.