Consider health benefits for you, sweetheart

Fancy red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates line store shelves and candy bars from Almond Joy to Zagnuts have been turned into heart shapes and packaged in red and white. Valentine’s Day is days away.

You might show your love with flowers, a card, or something more creative, or you might decide that Valentine’s Day only comes once per year, so perhaps a little indulgence is not such a big deal, and that is OK. Everyday year-round consumption of sugar is, however, a very big deal, and a growing health concern.

Sugar is added to over seventy percent of packaged foods in your grocery store, including salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, soups, and bread. Look for “sugar” on the ingredient label, though, and you might have a hard time finding it.

There are 60 or more different names for sugar, including rice syrup, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, agave nectar, and many more.

The not-so-sweet news? Studies show that getting too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they’re processed or prepared.

The American Heart Association now recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than about six teaspoons of sugar per day for women, or about nine teaspoons per day for men, and even less for young children.

By far, the single greatest source of sugar in the American diet is beverages. A 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains 16 teaspoons worth, and you’ll find similarly huge quantities in coffee drinks, juice drinks, iced teas, and even enhanced waters. It’s no wonder that, on average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons worth of added sugar every day.

How do you figure out the amount of sugar added to a product? Look at the nutrition facts, and divide the grams of sugar on the label by four to get the teaspoon equivalent.

For example, a one-tablespoon serving of ketchup has four grams of sugar, so divide four grams by four, and you have one teaspoon’s worth of sugar.

Keep in mind that real fruit and dairy products do have some naturally occurring sugar.

Compare the sugar on the label of plain yogurt — no added sugar — with regular flavored yogurt and you will see how much sugar is added in the flavored version.

This heart month, we are encouraging you to make it a Sugar Free February. Strive to meet or beat the American Heart Association recommendations of less than six teaspoons per day of added sugar for women, nine for men. Read labels, choose wisely, and see how much sugar you can eliminate from your diet.

Try it for these four weeks, and you will be amazed at how good you feel. Chances are that you will have made a permanent change for the healthier, and how sweet would that be?

Chautauqua County has high rates of both heart attack and stroke, but an estimated 80 percent of heart attacks and strokes are preventable.CHQ250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: