The Type of Sugars We Want (and Don't Want) In Our Diets
When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, avoiding sugar should be at the top of the list. Eating too much sugar directly increases the risk of obesity, and related conditions like type 2 diabetes, more than any other substance we consume. Not only that, too much sugar can also increase the risk of dental cavities, as well as inflammatory conditions like arthritis and other health issues. However, when it comes to cutting sugar from the diet, it can be difficult since added sugar is in so many food and drink products today.
Sugar is not only tasty, it also plays a role in providing energy. In the process of photosynthesis, plants produce sucrose, the chemical name for sugar, from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight energy. In humans, sugar (in the form of glucose) is a primary source of energy for every cell in the body. It’s especially important for brain functions like thinking, memory, and learning. So where does sugar go wrong?
Many nutritional experts believe the issue stems from added sugars. They believe that added sugars are worse than the sugars that naturally occur in food. Still other health experts tell us to avoid sugar altogether, regardless of the source. Let’s look at the real difference between added and natural sugar in terms of how your body responds to each.
Different Types Of Sugar
Besides glucose and sucrose, there are many other types of sugar. In fact, there are about 61 forms of sugar found in food products. This is surprising because most of it comes from the extraction of sugar juice from sugar beets or sugar cane.
In addition to these sugars, several artificial sweeteners are used to flavor and sweeten foods. These non-caloric compounds include sugar alcohols as well as stevia, saccharin, or sucralose. These artificial sweeteners are considered safe to consume in moderation according to the Food and Drug Administration, but studies show that they play a potential role in disrupting the balance of the gut microbiome. This could lead to inflammation in the body, which can increase the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Natural vs. Added Sugar
Natural sugar comes in many forms such as honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar, as well as in the form of lactose in dairy products, or fructose, found in fruit. Many foods and drinks contain a mix of natural and processed added sugars.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 150 calories of added sugar in the diet per day. That’s about 9 teaspoons of added sugar. To give you a bit of perspective, this is the amount of sugar often found in a 12-ounce can of regular cola.
So the next question is, “what type of sugar is best?” Is the 23 grams of sugar in an apple the same as 23 grams of sugar found in a candy bar? Not surprisingly, experts say that these types of sugar are very different when it comes to overall health.
Eating fruits and vegetables, which contain natural sugars, can benefit heart health due to their nutrient and antioxidant content. Nutrients such as fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, to name just a few, can reduce inflammation in the body and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, sugary foods and drinks that contain a lot of added sugar are stripped of these other nutrients and can increase inflammation. This can increase the risk of inflammatory conditions like diabetes, as well as depression.
Reducing Added Sugar in Your Diet
In order to prevent the negative health effects of sugar and and still have some sweetness in your life, stick to naturally occurring sugars in food. This doesn’t mean loading up on honey and maple syrup — these are good natural sweeteners in moderation, but too much of them can still not be great for you. What it does mean is getting your sweet fix primarily from fruits and vegetables that have natural sugars, and are also a great source for other nutrients.
This also means getting in the habit of reading nutrition labels on the foods and drinks you purchase. Fortunately, nutrition labels (as of May 27, 2016) now include the amount of added sugars in food products. This makes it much easier for you to control how much added sugar you consume.
Ways To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Little To No Added Sugar
- Swap out brown sugar for diced fruit on your gluten free oatmeal or breakfast quinoa.
- Choose plain kefir yogurt without added sugars and use berries and/or a teaspoon of raw honey to sweeten it.
- Take portable fruit like bananas, oranges, berries or apples to work or school as a snack instead of purchasing sugary snacks from the vending machine.
- Add fruits and vegetables to smoothies instead of sugar, fruit juice, or excess honey. Try things like strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas, carrots, or spinach.
- Replace sugar in baked goods recipes with unsweetened applesauce or partially replace table sugar with a naturally derived artificial sweetener like stevia.
In addition to the tips above, try tracking your food intake every now and then. This can help you better visualize how much sugar you are consuming daily, so you can take conscious steps to replace sugary foods or drinks with healthier options.