Slashing Sugar for Our Health

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By Meribeth Aldridge, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)

Meribeth Aldridge

Most of us have heard that too much sugar is not good for our health. Often referred to as “empty calories” because it has no essential nutrients, sugar has been linked to obesity, cavities, heart disease and diabetes. When sugar intake is high it can potentially take the place of the nutrients we need to be healthy.

Here are some things to consider in regard to sugar:

Not all sugars are the same

Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose); whereas, added sugars are put in foods during preparation or processing. Naturally occurring sugars that are present in fruit and vegetables are not digested as fast by the body, because of the fiber content of the food. These types of sugars offer a more consistent rise in blood sugar. Added sugar, on the other hand, is processed immediately, which heightens insulin and blood sugar levels and can leave you still feeling hungry and craving more sugar.

Beware of hidden sources of sugar

Some foods appear to be healthy, but actually contain high amounts of added sugar. For example, granola bars, yogurt, ketchup, dried or canned fruit in syrup, pasta sauce and cereal often contain high levels of sugar. Read labels at the grocery store to find low- or no-sugar versions of the foods you buy.

Take a closer look at nutrition labels

Nutrition labels do not always distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars, so you may need to look at the ingredient list for added sugar. Added sweeteners can go by different names, such as corn syrup, maltodextrin and most anything ending in “ose” (like dextrose and maltose). In fact, there are over 60 different names for sugar that are approved for food labels. It is also important to look at the serving size. Sometimes a package will contain 2.5 servings, for example, so the listed sugar content would need to be multiplied by 2.5 if you consumed the entire package. It is also helpful to remember that 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.

Sugar can lead to weight gain

Sweetened beverages like soda, fruit drinks and some energy drinks are some of the biggest sources of added sugars in the diet. In addition to containing empty calories, the sugar found in most of these drinks may actually increase your hunger and lead you to eat more. While artificial sweeteners can potentially lower calories and help people maintain a healthy weight, they are not a fail-proof solution. Artificial sweeteners, which create an intensely sweet taste, can result in some people finding fruits and vegetables no longer palatable. Research also suggests that artificial sweeteners may cause us to crave more sweets.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most women, this is no more than 100 calories per day (6 teaspoons or 25 grams), and it’s no more than 150 calories per day for most men (9 teaspoons or 36 grams).

There are natural sweeteners that are somewhat healthier than refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, but they should be used in moderation as well:

  • Dates (1 medium date – 66 calories)
  • Coconut sugar (1 tablespoon – 45 calories)
  • Maple syrup (1 tablespoon – 52 calories)
  • Blackstrap molasses (1 tablespoon – 47 calories)
  • Banana puree (1 cup – 200 calories)

It’s always a good idea to be aware that issues with blood sugar control may be a potential sign of diabetes or prediabetes and should be discussed with a health care provider.

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