Let’s talk about sugar, in all its forms, and how it affects the body. You might be saying to yourself, “well, I don’t eat a lot of sweets, so that doesn’t apply to me.” Keep reading. Here’s the truth about sugar.
Sugar exists naturally in many foods. By itself, it contains no nutrients, no protein, no healthy fats, and no enzymes–just quickly digested calories that affect hormones and insulin production to encourage more consumption.
Added sugar can also be found in many packaged and processed foods, especially flavored yogurt, cookies, pastries, condiments, granola, protein bars, canned fruit, bottled smoothies, and cereal.
Read a food label and ingredients list to determine if there is added sugar in your food. Look for words in the ingredients list that mean sugar: syrups (maple syrup, rice syrup, corn syrup, etc), honey, molasses, raw sugar, dextrin, agave, caramel, and anything ending in -ose (glucose, sugar, fructose, etc.)
Do you know who wants you to consume more sugar? The companies who make all the processed food. And for those, “I don’t eat a lot of sweets” people, did you know that sugar is added to almost everything nowadays? This is why you have to read your ingredient labels.
Why is too much sugar unhealthy?
As Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington explains:
The truth about sugar is that sugar does one of two things. It either displaces more nutritious foods in your diet, which means you’re screening out nutritious-dense foods, or it adds calories to your diet. So if you’re adding calories on top of an already nutritious diet that puts you at risk for weight gain.
There’s been a lot of research in recent years looking at the impact of added sugars — not the sugar naturally occurring in fruits and dairy products.
What we know is that added sugars put you at a higher risk for a poor lipid (fats) profile: Higher triglycerides, lower HDL (the good cholesterol) and higher LDL levels (the bad cholesterol) in the blood. A poor lipid profile increases your risk for coronary heart disease.
There’s also been some research that has shown that added sugars increase your risk of high blood pressure. And added sugars seem to promote inflammation, and more and more we find that inflammation is not good for the heart.”
What’s average for sugar consumption?
The recommendation for added sugar in a day is about 25 grams for women and 30 grams (2 tablespoons) for men. Added sugar is anything that you or companies add to foods- NOT what is naturally found in fruit, dairy and some vegetables.
The leading source of added sugars in the American diet are sugar-sweetened beverages. Think soda, juice, Gatorade, sweet tea, energy drinks, and coffee with added sugar.
Sugar is listed on ingredient labels as grams. One teaspoon of sugar is the equivalent of 4 grams. So, 16 grams of sugar is equal to 4 teaspoons. The next time you want a better visual of how much sugar you’re consuming, just take the number of grams listed and divide by 4, and that’s the number of teaspoons of sugar in the food you are about to consume.
This website, Sugar Stacks, gives you a visual by stacking cubes in front of a food to let you see how much sugar is in various food items. Check out this visual they did for a single can of coke. Ten teaspoons in one can! Can you imagine sitting down and eating 10 teaspoons of sugar?
What IS Sugar?
Sugar comes in many forms. The white, refined sugar we buy at the grocery store is just one, while other forms of sugar include high fructose corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup.
The foods you consume have two different types of sugars — naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal).
Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).
It was just recently proposed that the FDA may require nutrition labels to separately label the amount of natural sugar and added sugar in a product, to make the consumer more aware of how much sugar is being added to the products they are buying. Read the announcement here.
Some of you might be thinking, “why should I care? I know it’s bad for me, but I like it. Everything in moderation.” Well, did you know that sugar has been said to be as addictive as cocaine? And it’s an addiction most of us don’t even know we have, because we are consuming it without even knowing it. Check out this short news clip outlining this topic: CBS News: Sugar Addiction.
The truth about sugar vs. fructose
Today, 55 percent of sweeteners used in food and beverage manufacturing are made from corn, and the number one source of calories in America is soda, in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Food and beverage manufacturers began switching their sweeteners from sucrose to corn syrup in the 1970s when they discovered that HFCS was not only far cheaper to make, but is also about 20 percent sweeter than conventional table sugar.
HFCS contains the same two sugars as table sugar (sucrose) but is more metabolically risky to you, due to its chemical form. The fructose and the glucose are not bound together in HFCS, as they are in table sugar, so your body doesn’t have to break it down. Therefore, the fructose is absorbed immediately, going straight to your liver.
If your diet was like that of people a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams of sucrose per day—a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical person gets from sweetened drinks.
In vegetables and fruits, it’s mixed in with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate the negative metabolic effects. Amazingly, 25 percent of people actually consume more than 130 grams of fructose per day.
Making matters worse, all of the fiber has been removed from processed foods, so there is essentially no nutritive value at all. And the very products most people rely on to lose weight—the low-fat diet foods—are often the ones highest in fructose.
If you’re interested in reading in more detail all the harmful effects sugar has on the human body, check out this article.
Use these simple tips to reduce sugar in your diet:
- Read your labels! Know what is in your food.
- Better yet, don’t have labels. Eating whole, real, unrefined, unprocessed foods eliminates the need to read labels.
- Remove sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses from the table — out of sight, out of mind!
- Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
- Buy fresh fruits or fruits canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup.
- Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
- When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
- Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
- Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes (use equal amounts).
Did You Know?
One 12 oz. can of Coke has 39 grams of added sugar? That’s 10 packets of sugar!
One 20 oz. bottle of Gatorade has 34 grams of sugar.
24 oz. Grande Starbucks Iced Caramel Macchiato has 46 grams of sugar.
1 container of YoCrunch yogurt with granola has 22 grams of sugar.
Find more posts on all things nutrition, health, and supplements in our Nutrition posts archive!
Looking for a healthy snack without refined sugar? Try these Cashew Cranberry Energy Balls from Paleo Scaleo.