You might know sugar by its many other names: words ending with “ose” (sucrose, maltose, dextrose), high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, raw sugar, syrup, honey, agave, fruit juice concentrates. But simply put, sugar is a carbohydrate and needs to be addressed as such during its consumption.
Most foods have natural sugars in them, take for example, foods such as grains, dairy and fruits. These naturally occurring sugars are safe to consume in moderate quantities. But because sugars enhance and add to taste, many processed food products today have added sugars in the form of syrups and concentrates. The heavy consumption of those added sugars in processed foods is leading to major problems with today’s diets.
Recent studies have shown a significant link between sugar and obesity. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health points out that sports drinks, fruit punches, sodas and other sweetened drinks are the single largest source of calories and added sugar in the American diet — a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. These concerns about sugar have prompted corporations nationwide to stop selling sugary drinks.
Sugar substitutes are also called artificial sugars. They are non-nutritive and offer the sweetness of sugar without the calories. Sugar substitutes don’t affect blood sugar levels, but the other ingredients in food containing sugar alternatives can still affect your blood sugars. The effects of artificial sweeteners consumed in large amounts are still not very clear; most studies are non-conclusive at this point. Still, be cautious with sugar alternatives. You might end up consuming unhealthy ingredients because of the misconception that they’re a healthy choice.
While intake cannot be completely restricted, it is important to know what today’s recommendations are so precautions can be taken. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar consumption to nine teaspoons per day for men, six teaspoons per day for women, and three to six teaspoons for children. Here are some simple measures you can take to avoid sugar intake in your everyday diet.
It’s also important to recognize how sugar affects our brain and subsequently our moods. Sugar intake enhances dopamine levels in the brain, sometimes resulting in loss of control and cravings. Over time, those effects can add up — physically and mentally.
- Pay attention to the added sugars by looking at nutrition facts and ingredients labels regularly. Investigate if these are naturally occurring or added sugars. In most forms, naturally occurring sugars can be consumed in moderation.
- Avoid processed foods, especially those typically rich in sugars, such as colas, desserts, etc.
- Compare beverages to see added sugar in your choice of drink. Water is the best thirst quencher. Instead of soda, try sparkling water.
- Be cognizant of foods you might not expect to be high in sugars, such as sauces and ketchups.
- Low-fat foods may contain more sugars and more calories. Don’t be fooled; check labels thoroughly before consuming.
- Just because something is advertised as healthy does not mean it is. Educate yourself and understand how to read nutrition labels. Pay attention to the ingredient list for sources of added sugar.
- While many baked goods are major sources of added sugars, dessert can be an enjoyable part of a well-balanced eating pattern. Wisely incorporate baked goods into healthy eating by keeping portion sizes in check.
- Add nutritious ingredients such as fruit or vegetable wherever you possibly can in a recipe.
- In most recipes, you can cut down sugars by 25 percent without any noticeable difference in taste. Be creative.