Sugar. Probably one of nature’s most dangerous food and yet also the most popular. Sugar can come in natural forms or created in labs to make you think it can be “healthier”. But when it comes to using sugar, it is found in almost every home in the US and across the world. While some naturally derived sugar can’t harm as much as artificial sugar, eating too much of this ingredient can still do a tremendous amount of damage to our health. Sugar is inevitably found in almost every type of food we eat. The typical natural sugar are glucose, fructose, galactose, and maltose, lactose, and sucrose. While sugar that comes from certain fruits convert into energy that your body needs, sugar that is processed can harm your body. And eating too much of any kind of sugar (just like any kind of food) can still cause health problems for some.
So why is sugar so addictive? Some experts coined sugar as a form of “drug” where your body becomes addicted to it the more you eat it. To break it down simply – sugar is consumed into your body and into your bloodstream. Your pancreas detects a rush of sugar and releases a hormone called insulin to deal with all of the excess sugar. Insulin helps regulate that level of sugar in our blood; the more sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin is released. Insulin helps store all of this glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen and in fat cells. However, sometimes our body is unable to balance that process which results in too much insulin being released. When too much insulin is released in our body it struggles to maintain that balance thus leading our bodies to “crash”. When our bodies have that “sugar crash”, signals tell us that we need MORE sugar, thus leading to a downward spiral where the body starts to think that we need sugar to survive. Eventually more insulin is wanted and sugar no longer is stored to create energy and instead becomes extra insulin and fat storage.
Sugar can cause a wide array of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration, renal failure, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, and tooth decay. The culprit of sugar lies in most foods where hidden sugar are found in the ingredients yet are cleverly disguised with different names. While sugar found in fruits don’t cause as much harm as processed sugar found in corn syrup (especially since most of them are not GMO-free), it’s wise to learn about all the different names that are used in everyday products.
Some common sugar names found in food are:
Corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, malt syrup.
It is hard to stop having sugar altogether, but there are ways to limit our daily intake of it. According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugar and men consume no more than 150 calories of added sugar. Preschoolers should not consume more than 170 calories of added sugar a day (or 4 teaspoons), children ages 4-8 consume no more than 130 calories of added sugar ( or 3 teaspoons), and pre-teens to teens should consume no more than 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar. Children under the age of 2 years old should not be given added sugar at all because the calorie needs of children in this age group are lower than older children and adults, so there is little room for food and beverages containing added sugars that don’t provide them with good nutrition. In addition, taste preferences begin early in life, so limiting added sugars may help children develop a life-long preference for healthier foods.
Here are some simple ways in how to avoid added sugar. Sugar that’s found in fruits and vegetables occur naturally but it’s still wise to cut down on any type of sugar as the compound can be hidden in many types of food thus leading to an increase of sugar intake.
How to Cut Down Sugar:
– Cut down on sweet foods. You know, the ubiquitous sugary sweets such as donuts, cakes, sodas, and etc.
– Always read food labels. Understand the hidden sugar terms such as the ones listed above. You may be surprised to find that common white or wheat bread contain large amounts of sugar. Added sugar can be hidden in sauces, salad dressings, crackers, and many more.
– Learn sugar’s aliases. Names such as the ones listed above (high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup, honey, and several others) all contain calories and some are processed to a degree that it becomes detrimental to your health. Beware of food that includes more than one of these types of sugar as that increases the amount of added sugar necessary on a daily basis.
– Buy unsweetened. Look specifically for food labeled as “unsweetened” or “no added sugar”.
– Healthy protein and fat. Unhealthy carbs loaded with sugar can cause sugar levels to rise drastically and crash just as fast. Pair protein, healthy fats, and fiber with your meal which can slow down the release of blood sugar in your body thus helping you feel full longer).
– Skip the artificial sugar and sweeteners. It may seem like you’re cutting down on sugar, but artificial sugar doesn’t process as naturally in your body as real sugar does thus throwing your body’s natural nutritional intake off balance.
– Add more natural flavor. Adding certain spices and citrus in your food, for example, will add more flavor in your meals without needing the extra sugar. Try sprinkling cinnamon, nutmeg, and unsweetened cocoa for extra boosts of nutrition and flavor.
– Choose healthy drinks wisely. While it’s important to avoid soda altogether, many sports drinks and enhanced drinks designed to be “healthier” actually contains just as much sugar. Read the label carefully when choosing these vitamin enhanced beverages.
– Enjoy sugar in moderation. It’s best to avoid added sugar completely but while that may be difficult to do so-especially when you’re trying to cut it off completely- enjoy sugar in its natural state instead. Just avoid the added sugar as most sweet foods don’t really need that extra sweetness. If you must indulge, remember to do so only once in awhile and then stick with your no-sugar or low-sugar regime.
– Stick with your newfound power to reduce added sugar. At first it might seem quite daunting but once you get more used to reducing sugar, your taste buds will change as well. You’ll notice foods that are super sweet and you’ll be inclined to stay away from them. You’ll enjoy the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables more. And you won’t feel the need to buy sugary sweets such as donuts or cakes as much.
I used to eat a lot of sugar when I was in college. It might have been the extra work I added on and all the stress caused me to eat unhealthily. I finally realized that not eating well was causing a lot of problems for me mentally and physically and once I reduced sugary foods, I started to feel much better. Now, even years later I still don’t like having too much sugar in my food. I don’t drink coffee with sugar. I drink unsweetened tea. I eat only a small slice of cake and I might enjoy a cookie now and then. When I don’t eat a lot of sugar, I don’t buy sugary snacks either which in turn helps out my son who as a child, can find sugar quite addicting.
Reducing your sugar intake really doesn’t have to be a war on yourself. It’s easy to remember that too much sugar can cause tremendous health problems later on in life. Think about long term health goals. While that powdered doughnut may look appetizing now, it might also be that extra 20 grams of sugar you didn’t need. Remember that sugar adds up easily especially in common foods such as yogurt, or a couple of teaspoons of sweetener in your coffee, or energy bars that are loaded with sugar. Read labels diligently and remind yourself that natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables are much healthier and more nutritious.
When you make a conscious effort to reduce sugar and to make healthier food choices, your mind and body will reap the benefits. Start today by breaking the sugar habit.
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