Few things make me as nostalgic as long summer days at the ballpark. As a child, summer meant one thing: Baseball.
From the moment school let out until classes resumed in the fall it was nonstop. Four, five games in one day, each in a different town? No sweat for a dozen 11-year-olds and parents with a fleet of minivans. When fields sported lights and games stretched beyond sundown we felt like kings, applying extra eye black to cut down on the added glare, and emulating the swings of our favorite pros. In our minds we were one step down from the big leagues.
But our favorite part? After each game came the prized tickets to the snack shack; one for a drink, one for food. Typically that meant a bottle of water and piece of fruit, but when our parents’ watchful eyes weren’t carefully inspecting our selections we’d pick the worst stuff—bags of flavored sugar powder that you needed a hardened sugar stick utensil to eat. Wash it down with a soda. A juvenile jackpot.
Our parents knew what we were too young to care about—all that sugar was not so sweet. Eating and drinking a lot of added sugar is one probable cause of our nation’s obesity epidemic. It’s also linked to increased risks for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and inflammation in the body.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of added sugar to six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men. For reference, one 12-ounce can of cola contains about eight teaspoons of added sugar, for about 130 calories. Most American women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, and most American men should eat or drink no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars. Unfortunately, Americans are consuming 22 and 30 teaspoons of the sweet stuff each day.
The good news is that cutting down on sugar may be easier than you think. The AHA has a number of ideas to try; simple things like swapping out soda for sugar-free or low-calorie drinks, eating fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits and substituting unsweetened applesauce when recipes call for sugar. I’m taking advantage of many of these suggestions this summer. While I’m sure it won’t be completely sugar free, it will definitely be better than the dog days of my youth.
A healthy diet and lifestyle are our best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease, and winning that fight means when I’m a parent I’ll get to swap the view from a little league dugout for one from the stands. And that would be a home run.
Sean Dreher has been the communications director for the Toledo and Northwest Ohio Division of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association since 2015.