In the past years, we’ve all heard how sugar is our worst enemy and should be avoided at all costs. But, as sugar is added to almost every single product we eat, I have no idea how to avoid it. I don’t even know if I want to. In my experience, there are a lot of stuff you hear or read about just to find out that they are not completely true.
Therefore, I’ve started my own research, hoping that I won’t have to give up everything I like. I’ve discovered that naturally occurring sugar (from fruit, vegetables and milk) is not the one we should worry about. Added sugar (sweeteners added to the food during processing or preparation), on the other hand, and the amount that we consume, are the real issues.
Researches conducted in this field have failed to prove the certain correlation between unhealthy levels of blood fats and sugar. But, we know that cholesterol is related to obesity, and there is a link between obesity and added sugars. Therefore, it’s safe to say that, even though there are no unequivocal findings, foods with high levels of added sugar could have a negative effect on the cholesterol levels.
There is a link between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes. And, again, the link is obesity. These beverages are associated with obesity, and obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.
We have our love for sweet tastes written in our DNA. But, some studies have shown that sugar and junk food cause dopamine release, which means that those foods make us happy. On the other hand, we don’t get shakes when we don’t get our dose. Therefore, we may conclude that even though unhealthy food might make us happy, it can’t cause a real addiction.
Different Kinds of Sugars
Replacing refined sugar with “natural” sugars like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar or molasses has no effect. A calorie is a calorie. The only good thing about it is that some of them have a stronger taste, so you might eat less and get the same satisfaction. Fructose, which can be found in these substitutes, is metabolized by the liver, and large quantities of fructose can be turned into fat, in case of overloading the liver.
Stevia, sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), and other calorie-free sweeteners have been approved as safe by the FDA. Some short-term studies have shown that these sweeteners are safer than refined sugar, because they won’t cause weight gain or increase the blood sugar levels.
How Much Is Enough?
Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of the amount of sugar we consume on a daily basis. For example, one report showed that an average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is 355 calories. American Heart Association (AHA) named sugar-sweetened beverages the main source of added sugars. The main proof is that one 12-ounce can of soda contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar, the equivalent of 130 calories.
AHA recommendations are based on a person’s age, sex, and activity level. The upper limits for the daily intake of added sugars are:
- Active man aged 21-25: 18 teaspoons (288 calories)
- Inactive man aged 46-50: 9 teaspoons (144 calories)
- Moderately active woman aged 51-55: 5 teaspoons (80 calories)
- Inactive woman aged 71-75: 3 teaspoons (48 calories)
The thing we can do in order not to go over the recommended limit is to read the labels. Sweeteners can be found in almost 80% of food items, even in the items where you don’t expect to find them, such as salad dressings or crackers. When reading the labels, you have to be very careful, because added sugars are not always clearly labeled. They are usually hidden under these labels: high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose and sucrose. Or you can always look for a product with low-sugar or no-sugar label.
The final verdict is that we have to control the amount of added sugar in our diet in order to avoid the negative influence it has on our bodies. On the plus side, we can eat fruit, vegetables, and low-fat and nonfat dairy as much as we want, because, though sweet, they contain relatively small amounts of sugar. Additionally, this change in our diet will give us all the vitamins, minerals, water and fiber we need in order to stay healthy and active.