Natural and Added Sugars - Two Sides of the Same Coin
A rare treat for our early ancestors, sugar is now a ubiquitous substance with far-reaching health and societal repercussions that span the globe. It's not my intention to dispense health advice, make you feel bad about your sugar consumption, or to tell you what you should eat or drink. I'm just making a candid case for something you probably already know, sugar is bad for us.
Our body does need some sucrose (what we call sugar) for energy, brain function, and to keep the internal systems humming along. Sucrose is available from whole fruits (fructose), vegetables, nuts and the milk of mammals (lactose) as well as foods that have had sugar added during preparation or processing including spaghetti sauce, bread, yogurt, granola bars, salad dressings, cereal, and ice cream.
There's an important distinction to be made however. NATURAL sugars are those occurring naturally in foods. ADDED sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages when making them at home or manufacturing them in the factory: brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit nectars, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
While it's true that both added sugar and naturally occurring sugar are sucrose, when you focus on whole foods with natural sugar, you get the complementing useful nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber as well. Sources of natural sugars also tend to have a high water content and are generally low in calories and sodium. The bottom line is that it's harder to consume excessive amounts of sugar from whole foods than foods with added sugar.
There's plenty of data reporting that children and adults alike, on average, take in 17 teaspoons (85g) of added sugar every day! Consider that visual - 1 sugar cube = 4.2g of sugar. We wouldn’t eat 20 sugar cubes or packets daily; yet we drink them in fizzy & hot beverages and consume them in processed snacks, desserts & candy.
Obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, gallstones, ulcers, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure are just some of the health issues that a sugar laden diet is a precursor to. And while the Heart and Stroke Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 percent of calories each day (6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men), there's no ideal amount of added sugar a person should include in a healthy diet. Because the body undergoes damage from even a small amount of these sugars, it's advised to avoid all added sugars.
If the highly advertised long-term risks just listed aren't enough reason to quit sugar, then here are a few more immediate effects:
Sugar is a cycle, and a bad one. When we eat refined sugars, it spikes blood sugar levels and makes the brain feel good, at least for a little while. The liver and pancreas try to decrease the sugar to a safer level, then this resultant drop in blood sugar triggers a craving for even more sweets.
Sugar compromises the immune system. When we eat added sugars often, our immune system gets way behind and struggles to keep up during cold and flu seasons. Consuming sweets can suppress the white blood cells for half an hour, allowing just the time infections need to set in and make us sick.
Sugar dysregulates the normal cycles of the body. When we consume sugary calories, we get a sugar rush, and then sometime later a sugar crash. It can be exhausting for the body to go through these highs and lows, which in turn can affect our moods and our sleep.
Clearly, finding ways to lower added sugar intake is important to optimal health. So we give up on desserts, skip sugar in tea/coffee in an effort to give up sugar, but can you spot how sugar inconspicuously sneaks into your daily diet?
Breakfast: 1 1/3 cup apple & cinnamon flavoured instant Oatmeal
= 17g added sugar
Lunch: 1 cup berry flavoured Greek Yoghurt & 2 cups Salad + 1 1/2 Tbsp French Dressing
= 19g added sugar
Snack: 3 cups Kettle Corn
= 6g added sugar
Dinner: 1 cup whole wheat Pasta + 1/2 cup ground Beef with 1 cup commercially prepared Spaghetti Sauce
= 8g added sugar
Total = 50g added sugar
Breakfast: 1 1/3 cup unflavoured instant Oatmeal with sliced Apples & cinnamon
= 0g added sugar
Lunch: 1 cup plain Greek Yoghurt topped with fresh Berries & 2 cups Salad + 1 1/2 Tbsp Qspice Vinaigrette
= 0g added sugar
Snack: 3 cups plain air-popped Popcorn
= 0g added sugar
Dinner: 1 cup whole wheat Pasta + 1/2 cup ground Beef, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Onions & Spinach sauteed in olive oil
= 0g added sugar
Total = 0g added sugar
Stark difference, isn’t it? Both menus contain plenty of generally accepted “healthy” foods but they're not created equal.
The best way to avoid hidden sugars in your meals is to make them at home so you know exactly what’s in them. But if you need to buy prepackaged food, check the label to identify any hidden added sugars, especially when buying foods from the following list.
Ketchup and BBQ Sauce
Hot and Cold Breakfast Cereal
Energy or Protein Bars
Canned Fruits and Juices
Prepared Pasta Sauces
Flavoured and Low Fat Yoghurt
Flavoured Hot and Cold Drinks
With holidays, marketing and grocery stores, we don't stand a chance when everywhere you turn is full of fun, colourful treats. So, what do we do then? We need to take our wellness back into our own hands. Make healthsome choices at the supermarket and in our kitchen. Research fun recipes, cook from scratch and pack our lunches. We can change our mindsets about treats and what they mean. They don't have to mean candy and baking, they just mean something special that you enjoy and appreciate; pedicures, a tea from your favorite shop, a nice soak in a bath.