Unless you missed many nursing classes and all the nutrition news from the past couple of years, you probably know that consuming too much sugar can hurt your health. But it's still really hard to take a pass on sugary foods and treats on the job. Because, donuts. In the break room! Plus you're constantly staring down other temptations, like afternoon lattes and the "sliver" of a co-worker's birthday cake. And then there are the easily-missed hidden sugars in certain go-to nurse foods, like salad dressing or even ketchup.
It's easy to shrug off the possibility that excess sugar might pile on a few extra pounds. But nurses with a sweet tooth also must contend with increased risk of inflammation and chronic diseases. The Arthritis Foundation listed sugar as one of the top eight food ingredients that cause inflammation. A 2014 study out of North Dakota State University also reinforced the link between inflammation and sugar, specifically the sugar-sweetened beverages. This sugar-inflammation relationship can end poorly for sugar fiends because "chronic, low-grade inflammation is a key factor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease, and is associated with the risk of developing diabetes, dementia, and depression," according to a systematic review from 2018.
How much is too much sugar?
Instead of slashing sugar from your menu entirely, the American Heart Association urged all adults to limit "the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance." Sorry, ladies. Women can't eat as much sugar and stay within this guideline. "For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 calories per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men)," AHA added.
Whether that seems like a simple chore or a staggering obstacle, local nurses and nutrition experts suggest these tips for nurses trying to limit their sugar intake:
Treat protein like your new best friend. "To avoid a blood sugar roller coaster make sure you have a protein and healthy fat with each meal and snack," advised Jenny Askew, a cancer survivor and registered dietitian at Balance Fitness and Nutrition in Alpharetta. "By making this simple adjustment you will feel more satisfied, need to eat less frequently and have more energy. If you're currently a simple carb-o-holic, you'll see changes right away!"
Keeping a stock of protein-rich snacks at hand helps since medical settings can be sorely lacking the foods you'd need. "A snack-size baggie of almonds and craisins is good – that way it has the sugar and fats. To make it more filling, you could add half a cup of apple or Greek yogurt," Nancy Juarez Sanchez recommended. A bariatric nurse, she lost 70 pounds recently, in part from gastric sleeve weight loss surgery last year.
Go for the flavor boost. Sanchez said she also relies on different protein shakes recommended by the bariatric clinic dietitian, and Lora brand bars are her go-to snacks. With both, though, she urged fellow nurses watching their sugar to try new flavors to stay out of a rut. "Even if you haven't had bariatric surgery, if you don't try new ingredients, all those bars and shakes start to taste the same," she emphasized.
Pack your own nutrition. Amanda Moorhouse is a health-conscious 20-year nursing veteran who has worked as a nurse practitioner in a leading hospital in East Tennessee for the past 10 years. "I always try to pack my lunch and try to keep fresh fruit and veggies on hand," she said.
Let yourself indulge a bit. Moorhouse doesn't see any point in giving up all sugary foods. "I don't always resist treats," she says. "Sometimes I treat myself, but I might only have a half of a donut or something like that instead of indulging in the entire treat."
Stay hydrated. While it's a myth that your body often confuses thirst and hunger, you can avoid lots of sugary temptations just by staying hydrated, Moorhouse added. That helps you avoid the fatigue that leads to carb cravings.
Be mindful of what you're eating. The annoying "food log" where you write down everything you eat for a few days can be very helpful here. So can being aware of the places and situations that inspire sugary snack consumption. "I have to be really cautious around what I'm eating around my desk," Sanchez added. "When you work in a medical facility, you get a lot of reps constantly bringing in snacks or food. I also have to remind myself that a latte late in my shift still counts as calories."
And stay busy. Part of Moorhouse's healthy weight strategy is keeping the focus off of sugar in particular and eating in general. "Sometimes what helps the most is just trying to be active or stay busy," she said. "That's a good way to avoid the mindless snacking on unhealthy things."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.