It’s the holiday season and that means sweet treats every where you look! While it’s okay to enjoy everything in moderation, it makes one wonder, what’s the big deal with sugar anyway? Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly!
Sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Our body uses carbohydrates for energy to fuel our metabolism, to help our central nervous system function and to get us through that grueling workout.
There are different types of sugars. Simple sugars (also known as monosaccharides) include glucose, fructose and galactose. Complex sugars (referred to as disaccharides) include sucrose, maltose and lactose. Simply put, anything ending in “-ose” is a form of sugar (Hint: look for those in the ingredients when you are reading labels on your foods to find hidden sugars!) Of these, the naturally occurring sugars are glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose.
*Glucose: Our bodies either use this as fuel or convert it to be stored in the muscles or liver (when it is stored, it is known as either muscle glycogen or liver glycogen). This type of sugar is found in plants and fruits.
*Fructose: Fruit sugar! It is sweeter than table sugar. Besides fruit, fructose is also found in honey and cane sugar (the refined grains of the sugar crop).
*Sucrose: This sugar can be found alone or right next to glucose in certain plants. It is also found in sugar cane (the sugar crop) and sugar beets.
*Lactose: Milk sugar. Do you know someone who is lactose intolerant? Lactose intolerance simply means the individual is lacking the enzyme to break down this sugar for utilization in the body. As babies, most have this enzyme but through the aging process, some adults lose this enzyme and become lactose intolerant.
While our body uses carbohydrates (simplified into sugars) as fuel, if there is too much of it in our body, it gets stored as fat. Most sugar is considered an empty calorie—calories that lack nutrients our body needs and just contribute to the overall intake of calories consumed by our body.
Excess consumption of sugar has been linked to chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and cancer as well as tooth decay, inflammation, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Sugar also releases dopamine in the brain, making it highly addictive to many people. It is the largest contributor to obesity in both adults and children.
Recent research has shown that saturated fat, vilified for many decades as the cause of heart disease, may not be the culprit after all. Sugar has been shown to possibly be a lead cause of heart disease due to the effect of excess fructose on metabolism. Excess fructose can raise triglycerides, blood glucose and insulin levels as well as increase abdominal obesity, all of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Keep in mind, this is not simply fructose from fruit. It is difficult to over consume fructose from fruit alone.
Did you know?
1822: Americans consume 45 grams of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in a can of coke.
2012: Americans consume 756 grams of sugar every five days, or 130 POUNDS of sugar a year.
Approximately 16% of the total caloric intake of children comes from added sugars.
Males consume more sugar drinks than females.
One-half of the U.S. population consumes sugar drinks on any given day, and 25% consumes
at least 200 kcal (more than one 12-oz can of cola).
Check out these comparisons of the amount of sugar in various foods! One cube of sugar contains about 12 grams of sugar.
There is hope, though! Some ways that you can take control of your sugar consumption are:
Choose nutrient dense sweeteners such as those listed below.
Many require a smaller amount to sweeten to your liking:
*real maple syrup (full of zinc and magnesium)
*raw honey (full of B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc to name a few)
*unsulfured blackstrap molasses (excellent source of iron, potassium and calcium)
*coconut sugar (B vitamins, zinc and iron)
*dates (B vitamins, iron, potassium and copper)
*stevia (Vitamins A & C, zinc and chromium among others)
Choose green apples, green tipped bananas, raspberries or kiwi to snack on. These fruits are lower in sugar than fully ripened bananas, cherries, pineapple or mango. While there are beneficial nutrients in all of them, when watching your sugar intake, consider limiting higher sugar fruits.
Consider enhancing foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg. One tea that I like when I am craving something sweet is Bengal Spice Tea by Celestial Seasoning. No sweetener needed!
Read food labels! Added sugars can hide in some surprising places, including:
*Whole-grain cereals and granola
*Granola bars, protein bars and cereal bars
*Dried fruit, canned fruit, applesauce and fruit juices
*Barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing and other condiments
Consider making some of these items from scratch to control the sugar content of them.
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