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Sugar: The Highs and the Lows

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Sugar: The Highs and the Lows

Interested in the truth about sugar and how much sugar we really need? Here's what a nutritionist and sugar expert has to say about it.

The simple truth is, we need sugar. Many of our vital organs rely on some form of sugar. Our brain functions predominantly on glucose, the basic unit of all sugars. Our muscles rely on carbohydrates, which are made up of, you guessed it, sugar. Without sugar we wouldn’t go far.

This begs the question, are all sugars created equal? Hasn’t sugar been villainized by mainstream media and health care practitioners? Recent research does suggest that several harmful health consequences are associated with the consumption of sugar including obesity, type II diabetes, and tooth decay. According to a recent study, consuming sugar in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages between meals more than doubles a child’s odds of being overweight (1). A sugar-sweetened beverage is a term that encompasses sodas, sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, flavored milk and sweetened tea and coffee. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common forms of sugar in our diet.

Table sugar, most commonly cane or beet sugar, is the most widely used natural sweetener. Also known as sucrose, it is what is found in sugar-sweetened beverages. This type of sugar poses serious health risks for many reasons. One being a sweet beverage is typically consumed over a long period of time. This can elevate blood glucose levels, which is normal when you are eating a meal, but not normal over a sustained period. Blood glucose levels, or the amount of sugar in your blood, are intended to rise and fall throughout the day. Having a sweet treat between meals, whether that’s an iced coffee or soda to overcome the dreaded afternoon slump, can keep your glucose levels dangerously high. Another reason sugar consumed in the form of beverages is frowned upon is that your drink likely will not fill you up. There is no satiety or feeling of fullness after sipping your delicious beverage, which increases your calorie intake and sugar intake without leaving you satisfied. This is also true for sweetened snacks, with added sugar (2).

 

Fructose, known as “fruit sugar,” as it occurs naturally in fruits, can also be found in honey, agave and vegetables. This type of sugar is present in drinks and foods containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In this unnatural condensed state, fructose can be just as damaging, if not more, than table sugar. However, in its natural state fructose isn’t so scary. Naturally, fruits contain nutrients like vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and more importantly, fiber which is known to control the glycemic response to carbohydrates, or your blood sugar in other words.

The large picture here is to recognize that there is no nutritional benefit that comes with consuming added sugars, whether that is a sucrose, a fructose, a syrup or anything that wasn’t naturally in the product to begin with. Many foods naturally contain a substantial amount of the sugars our brains and muscles need to function. With that being said, we live in a world where eating foods without anything added is near impossible. The recommendation is to limit added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories. This means if you are eating 2,000 per day, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars (3).

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