By: Marco Paúl

Back in 2010 after my annual checkup at my doctor’s office, I had a rude awakening. I came into his office to get the results of my blood test and the first thing he said was: “What in the world have you been eating?” By the look on his face, I could immediately tell that this wasn’t good news. He proceeded to say that my blood pressure was 145/100 and that my sugar levels were through the roof making me borderline diabetic. I was 33.

I was in shock. Borderline diabetic? I pride myself for not having a sweet tooth. Chocolate is not my favorite, I rarely crave ice cream, donuts or candy! I had been going to the gym for about 8 years and considered myself active and in decent shape. How could this be? I’m healthy! I was wrong. The numbers didn’t lie, I was 210 lbs and 27% body fat. Yep, almost a third of my weight was fat.

The doctor immediately put me on blood pressure medication and asked to watch my diet. I went to a nutrionist and started logging down what I was eating. Turns out, there’s not a lot of chicken in General Tso’s chicken and whole lot of sugar. I had been eating out a lot lately. I was traveling for work constantly and eating at airports and restaurants, as well as drinking with colleagues during work functions. Very quickly I realized that the number one culprit for my poor health wasn’t fat, it was sugar.

It was then when I started paying attention to the added sugar that I was consuming. I was eating oatmeal, that’s healthy right? Think again, Marco. I was eating the instant oatmeal flavored kind… yeah, the one with 12 g of sugar per serving. I was also eating yogurt, that’s also healthy, no? Well, turns out it depends, I was eating the “healthy” one with fruit except for that flavored yogurt and especially containing fruit can have up to 16 g per serving. My coffee, very needed for those early mornings, I was taking it with 2 teaspoons of sugar (4g/tsp). Twice a day (16 g total). At least 3 times a week, I was getting the grande Mocha latte no foam and skim milk at Starbucks… and all of its 35 g of sugar.  I also had “healthy” snacks. Since I was traveling a lot, I relied on many breakfast bars and oatmeal bars, without realizing each of them had up to 14 g of sugar. All of that combined with the condiments I was putting on my food: ketchup (4g/tbsp.), barbecue sauce (6g/tbsp.), Caesar salad dressing (4g/tbsp.) was spiking my added sugar intake to alarming levels, despite never eating food considered “sweets” (aka cake, donuts or candy), and before even counting the sugar from alcohol! The American Heart Association (AHA) daily added sugar recommendation is 36g for men (24g for women). On any given day I was consuming anywhere from 90 to 120 g of added sugar without ever having a donut. #fml #smh

So I started reading the labels on everything that I was consuming. My first look would be at how much sugar each serving had. Little by little I started training my palette to not crave as much sugar. I switched the flavored instant oatmeal for regular steel-cut oatmeal. I started putting less and less sugar in my coffee (now I take it black). I stopped buying breakfast bars and oatmeal bars and replaced them with real food like apples and almonds. Instead of salad dressing, I started using lime juice, vinegar, and oil.

These changes in my diet combined with a consistent fitness routine including strength and conditioning helped me turn the ship around. In 6 months I dropped 29 lbs. On my next visit to the doctor, my blood results were all back to normal and I was off the blood pressure medication. My doctor never thought I was overweight. He was convinced that my high blood pressure was genetic. He was the first one to admit how surprised he was as to how small but specific changes in lifestyle can improve one’s life condition tremendously.

Next time you are about to buy any processed or prepackaged food. Just take two seconds to read the Nutrition Facts Label and look at the amount of sugar per serving. It doesn’t take much to get to the recommended 36/24 g of added sugar, and that’s just recommended, we do not need added sugar to function, we get plenty of glucose from real food like starchy vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes. So choose carefully and make it worth having that delicious glazed donut (12 g of sugar).