Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and all the marketing I've been seeing for chocolates and candy has me thinking about the love-hate relationship that many of us have with sugar. We've been taught since childhood that sugar is bad for us. But what types of sugar should we really be avoiding? It sure can get confusing! To help clear things up, here are a few things to keep in mind about sugar.
Sugar is sugar. We have heard this over and over in the debate over which types of sugar are better or worse for our health. It's true that our bodies metabolize all sweeteners in the same way, but we still need to mind the source.
Mind the source. When considering reducing your daily intake of sugar, think about where the sugar comes from. Some sources aren't all bad. Natural foods like fruit and milk contain lots of sugar, but they're also packed with nutrients. Many fruits have lots of vitamins and fiber, and milk is a good source of calcium and protein. Consider keeping some natural sugars and reducing added sugars like the ones we find in baked goods and soft drinks.
Sugar "addiction." Eating sugar causes a spike in blood sugar and a subsequent crash. Many sugar lovers respond to the crash by eating more sugar, and the cycle continues. But calling this an addition may be oversimplifying the issue. Yes, sugar stimulates parts of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, but that doesn't mean it's addictive.
Sugar withdrawals. Dramatically reducing your sugar intake can have some uncomfortable side effects, especially if your sugar intake was particularly high to begin with. My sister recently went on a sugar fast and experienced some light-headedness. Nausea and fatigue are also signs of sugar withdrawal. If you're cutting your sugar, do it gradually to give your body time to adjust.
Sugar and illness. Contrary to what you may have heard, added sugar won't cause cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's Disease - if it's in moderation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a study, following more than 350,000 adults for over a decade. It found that consuming added sugar was not linked to an increased risk for death.
It's okay to have sugar; just be aware of what you're consuming. You especially want to be on the lookout for hidden sugar in packaged foods like bread. Like anything else, it's all about moderation. The American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar per day. Men should keep it under 9 teaspoons (35 grams) per day.
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