Sugar is Sugar is Sugar!
Most of us eat two to three times more sugar than is recommended. What does this mean for your health? And what about the various types of sugar on the market—are there healthier options?
It is Holiday season! Are you indulging in yummy cookies, cocktails, and Christmas goodies? We certainly have been a little lax these days. And unfortunately, there is just no sugarcoating it — that yummy dessert that often follows dinner or the daily soda “pick me up” is just not good for you. Refined sugar is unhealthy.
Refined sugar is the focus of many ongoing scientific studies. Researchers claim that excess sugar consumption can suppress your immune system, increase the possibility of contracting Alzheimer’s, and may give you wrinkles.
We can all agree eating large amounts of sugar isn’t doing your body any favors. In fact, sugar increases your blood pressure, which leads to unhealthy levels of blood fat. This may also increase your risk of heart disease and result in weight gain.
Sugar increases your blood pressure → leads to unhealthy levels of blood fat → can increase your risk of heart disease.
The daily allowance of sugar per day is 6 teaspoons
The average individual consumption per day is 20 teaspoons
But everyone loves sugar—and for good reason. Consuming sugar causes dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) to be released and actually activates your brain’s “reward system.” Here, take a look at this video produced by Ted-Ed:
This is not to say that all sugar is bad for you. Your body, particularly your brain, requires glucose in order to function properly. Consuming all-natural sugars, like what you find in fruit and vegetables, is not something to worry about. It’s unrealstic to think you can avoid all added sugars. So, in order to minimize the health risks associated with added sugar, we asked ourselves—how much can you eat a day and get away with?
The American Heart Association recommends 24 grams of added sugar per day for women. Men on the other hand are recommended 36 grams of added sugar per day— lucky guys!
Keep in mind, this does not include sugar from milk, fruits, and vegetables.
To put this into perspective, sugar is often hiding in places where you might not look: ketchup, salad dressing, sauces, and yogurt. For instance, a bowl of bran cereal with raisins has about 19 grams of sugar and a peanut chocolate candy bar has about 20 grams of sugar. Both dangerously close to your recommended daily amount!
Sugar is one of the biggest contributors to the obseity epedemic in the United States– most Americans eat between 80-110 grams of added sugar a day. Unfortunately, you can’t exercise your way out of a high sugar diet. Often, when you hear people say “Ugh, I gained 5 pounds!” your first instinct is to say, “That’s nothing!”—but in reality five pounds of fat in your body is equivalent to about the size of a football – an inflated football.
As was illustrated in the Ted-Ed video on Dopamine (above), there are a lot of different types of sugar. But what makes them different?
Sugar comes from many sources. The most common are from sugarcane, sugar beets, and corn. Many people think sugars such as honey, agave, or brown sugar are better for you because they are “natural.” This is not true. Sugar is sugar—no matter where it comes from.
Depending upon the source, sugar is composed of different mixtures of fructose and glucose. Sucrose, or table sugar, for example, is composed of glucose and fructose linked together in equal proportions. All of the sugar, except agave, have roughly the same ratio of fructose and glucose – give or take five percent. Meaning your body digests them the same way and they are all absorbed into the bloodstream following consumption.
What is the difference between fructose and glucose and why is that important?
Although the sugars are digested similarly, what sets fructose and glucose apart is how our bodies react to each one. Each cell in our body – particularly those in our brain – thrive on glucose to convert energy into nutrients and to eliminate waste. That ‘low sugar’ feeling you experience, often at the end of the day, is actually your body craving glucose. But, if you eat too much sugar or carbohydrates, the excess glucose is converted to glycogen for temporary storage, and is deposited in the liver to be used when the body needs additional energy. This “storage unit” kicks into gear after a workout or in between meals when your body needs a boost. If the energy is not used, however, it will turn into triglycerides. Triglycerides are what cause high levels of blood fat.
Most simply put, glucose is good and gives your body energy. But, if you eat too much sugar the excess is stored in your liver and unless your body needs the energy, it will turn into fat. Fructose, unlike glucose, is not used by any part of your body and it either resides in your liver as a triglyceride or is converted to uric acid. Uric acid contributes to gout. (Unfamiliar with gout— think Henry VIII…not a good image!)
Excess fructose is actually seven times more cell damaging than excess glucose. Fructose is also a major contributor to obesity. A high triglyceride level, courtesy of excess fructose, can be associated with heart disease due to thickening of the artery walls.
The sugar found in fruits and vegetables is a naturally occurring form of fructose. Although the body handles sugars naturally present in fruits and vegetables in a similar way to added sugars, the benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber make eating fruits and veggies worthwhile for your diet. In addition, the fiber in the fruit and vegetables slows down the rate at which your body digests the sugar, thus decreasing the glycemic impact. On average, you should have between 5 and 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
The fiber in the fruit and vegetables slows down the rate at which your body digests the sugar, thus decreasing the glycemic impact.
And remember the 24 grams/38 grams of sugar for women and men, respectively, are for additional sugars not healthy fruits and veggies. And to put things into perspective, you would have to eat 89 cherries to get the same amount of fructose as a 20oz soda…and soda’s are heavily processed! For more of the sugar content in different fruits, have a look at this.
So, we know there are different types of sugar, made up of different compositions of both glucose and fructose. But, what does that mean for calorie count?
Each type of sugar, whether it is sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, provides the same amount of calories.
One gram of sugar has 4 calories, which means that 1 teaspoon is roughly 20 calories and 1 tablespoon provides about 60 calories.
However, there are natural alternatives with no calories. Natural sweetness from the Stevia plant is becoming an alternative option to sugar because it contains no glucose or fructose. The most popular of these sweeteners is Truvia, which can be used for baking, added to coffee, and used in some vitamin waters, sports drinks and some varieties of Odwalla.
Whether you are consuming honey, high fructose corn syrup, or table sugar, it all has the same effect on your body. The real secret to managing your health is to limit those added sugars.
The Bottom Line:
Stop overeating sugar!!!! No one expects you to never have a binge day, but there are ways to satisfy your sugar craving without eating all the refined crap! The USDA recommends you consume roughly 1-2 cups of fruit a day! AND the sugar in fruit doesn’t count towards the 6 teaspoons of refined sugar that you are able to eat a day. At the end of the day, sugar is sugar. We recommend you cut the chocolate in half and add some fruit. Trust us, you will feel better!
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sugars-and-Carbohydrates_UCM_303296_Article.jsp
Barclay, Eliza. “Why Sugar Makes Us Feel So Good.” NPR. NPR, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
“Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health” American Heart Association Scientific Statement, August 24,2009 http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/120/11/1011.full.pdf
“Effects of Fructose vs. Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved with Appetite and Reward Pathways,” Kathleen A, Page et al., Journal of American Medical Association, January 2, 2013 http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1555133
“Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar.” Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar. American Heart Association, 19 May 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
“Is Fructose Bad For You?” P.J. Skerrett, Managing Editor, Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, April 26,2011 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-fructose-bad-for-you-201104262425
Kam, Katherine. “Sugar Health Effects: Is Refined Sugar Bad For You?”WebMD. WebMD, 29 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
“The Effects of High Fructose Syrup,” Suzen M. Moeller, Ph.D.,et al representing the American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health, Journal of the American College of Nutrition,vol.28, no. 6, pp.619-626 (2009) www.jacn.org/content/28/6/619.full.pdf