Today's 650-word post could save you tens of thousands of empty calories per year.
My lovely wife Laura is training for her first marathon, so she's carefully evaluating what she eats with an eye toward eliminating some of the lower-quality inputs into her diet.
It led her to a truly shocking discovery. She discovered she was eating more sugar than she realized. A lot more. And it was all just hiding there in a couple of innocuous daily beverages she hardly even thought about.
First of all, every morning she'd have one or two cups of half-coffee/half-milk, each with two spoonfuls of sugar. And then, on most evenings, she'd have a big mug of hot cocoa--with another two spoonfuls of sugar.
Hey, she's got a sweet tooth, and that's okay. I'm a black coffee guy and I've always thought sweetened coffee was kind of girly, but hey, that's just me. Vive la différence.
Of course, logically, Laura could easily see that the idea of pouring five or six spoonfuls of sugar down her throat every day wasn't exactly healthy (especially when you phrase it that way).
So the first thing she did was mentally reclassify her evening hot cocoa as an infrequent "special treat" rather than a less-than-special daily habit. Then, she cut back to just one cup of coffee per day. Then, she (actually me, since I fix her coffee most mornings) weaned herself away from so much sugar in her daily coffee.
How? Simple: I just gradually cut down on the sugar I added to her coffee. I worked down from two rounded spoonfuls to a spoonful plus a little. She never even noticed. Then I worked down to just a spoonful. She still never noticed. Then a little less than a spoonful.
Well, at this point, she noticed. But within a few days she got used to it.
Now, after a short couple of weeks, she's happily drinking her coffee with less than a full rounded spoonful of sugar. She likes it exactly the same as before, and she's experiencing no feelings of deprivation whatsoever.
And yet she's eliminated more than four rounded spoonfuls of sugar a day from her diet.
What we found was that your palate can be conditioned away from sugar just like it can be conditioned away from salt. Given time, you can teach your mind and your taste buds to not want quite so much sugar.
Okay. Here's the important part. Laura knew that it would be a good idea to cut this incremental sugar out of her diet. But then we did the caloric math. This is where it got disturbing.
Geek that I am, I actually weighed the amount of sugar in a "rounded spoonful" of the spoons in our kitchen, using my trusty EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. We have typical, medium-sized spoons in our kitchen--not baby-sized, but not ginormous IKEA spoons either. And a "rounded spoonful" of sugar worked out to exactly 8 grams.
So here's the (mortifying) math: at 8 grams per spoonful, Laura's daily coffee/hot cocoa habit added up to 32 grams of unnecessary sugar per day. That's 960 grams (or 2.1 pounds) of sugar a month. Or an astonishing 25 pounds of sugar a year.
Expressed in caloric terms, the math is even more astonishing. Start with the fact that a gram of table sugar contains about four calories. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Until you realize that eating 960 grams of sugar per month works out to 3,840 calories. Nearly two full day's worth of excess calories every month, assuming an average woman's 2,000 daily caloric intake.
Just wait. 32 grams a day x 365 days works out to 11,680 grams. Which means this annual excess sugar intake works out to 46,720 calories per year.
Forty-six thousand seven hundred and twenty incremental and largely unnecessary calories per year. That's nearly twenty-four days' worth of unnecessary calories.*
All in the form of a couple of easily forgettable daily beverages.
Readers, where do you think your empty calories hide? Share your thoughts below!
* A quick footnote: As I was working through the caloric math in this post, I simply couldn't believe the total sums I was arriving at. It didn't seem possible that I could come up with over 46,000 excess calories from what seemed like such a small, innocuous daily habit.
I checked and rechecked (and even had Laura check) the math, and I even reduced some of the assumptions too (e.g.: Laura actually cut more like five rounded spoonfuls a day out of her diet, not four, but I used four spoonfuls in the calculations above to be more conservative, and because the evening hot cocoa was a nearly-every-day habit, not an every-day-without-fail habit).
But I guess the conclusion here is that the little things really add up. I mean really add up. And if you have a daily soda, frappuccino or other sweetened beverage habit, you may be ingesting way, way more pointless calories than you realize over the course of months and years.
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