I recently saw a full-page ad in a National Geographic magazine from the 1970s stating that the medical community encouraged daily consumption of sugar for good health. The abundance of “foods” like processed cheese and Twinkies during my childhood suddenly made a bit more sense.
However, about three months ago I discovered with my doctor that I was well on my way to developing adult-onset diabetes and a dangerously high Body Mass Index. To begin turning this trend around, I had to basically eliminate sugar from my diet.
Sugar has been blamed not only for these two issues, but also for acne, tooth decay, cardiovascular disease and mood disorders. But as I turned to all-natural foods and alternative sweeteners, I had to wonder whether or not they were any worse for me than the good old-fashioned white refined sugar I had been eating my entire life.
Is There Such a Thing as Good Sugar?
The short answer is yes. Within hours of entering the world, newborn babies get their first taste of sugar – in the form of glucose – from breast milk or formula. The sweetness connects with the baby’s satisfaction relating to a sense of calm and a full tummy.
The human body is designed to survive on the chemical form of sugar called glucose. This carbohydrate is found in a variety of foods, like fruit, vegetables and starches, provides our cells with energy, and helps regulate our metabolism.
Sugar is Everywhere
The American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of five to nine teaspoons of sugar per day for the average person. This may be a challenge once you start keeping track of your personal sugar intake.
If you take a look around your cupboards or pantry and begin reading labels, you’ll soon find that sugar is literally everywhere. The refined, white sucrose – table sugar – is only one of the many kinds of sugar found within our regular diets.
- glucose – the broad dietary sugar used for energy
- lactose – milk sugar
- fructose – sugar found in fruit
- maltose – also known as malts, found in honey and rice malt
- jam – high in fruit sugar
- syrup – including maple and corn
Another form of sugar that you may read on the labels is High Fructose Corn Syrup, a form of sugar that is manufactured using corn (http://dietblurbs.com/high-fructose-corn-syrup-health-cons/). It’s similar to sucrose, but is mixed with fructose in such a way that makes it sweeter and more difficult to digest.
When Good Sugar Goes Bad
It turns out that although necessary for survival, not all sugar is considered “good.” Glucose, combined with the vitamins, minerals, fiber and nutrients provided by food found in nature, gives us the energy and nourishment we need to function. When this chemical is refined, it is stripped of all of the packaging – i.e. vitamins, nutrients, and minerals – that make it appropriate in healthy quantities. Once refined, sugar constitutes empty calories, which deplete our bodies of stored nutrients in order to digest.
Refined sugar also messes with the balance of insulin in our bodies. Because these empty calories require so much insulin to keep blood-sugar levels in balance, our either stop responding to the insulin that’s produced, or the pancreas stops producing enough insulin to balance the sugar. The result is the buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, also known as diabetes.
The Cost of Convenience
Food that is processed, packaged and consumed in the name of convenience adds about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day into each person’s diet, which equals 156 pounds of sugar per person per year.
Unfortunately, a great deal of these processed food products are made with high fructose corn syrup. Beginning in the 1970s, this manufactured sugar made from corn became cheap to produce in the United States, encouraging manufacturers to incorporate it into their products. You may expect to find high fructose corn syrup in sweets, like candy, cookies or cake, but it can also be found in sauces used in cooking, crackers, breads, chips, condiments, soups, and a variety of beverages.
Because processed foods are cheaper to produce, they are generally cheaper to buy. A two-liter of sugary soda is considered a better value because it costs less to purchase than an eight-ounce can. This “good value” increases our intake of calories, sugar, and fat without providing any basic nutritional benefits as well as contributing to present and future health problems.
Back to Nature
When it comes to sugar, I think it’s unrealistic to try and discard all traces. Many foods found in nature contain glucose, along with fiber and nutrients to help regulate blood sugar.
If a sweetener is required in your diet, there are several that are available that come from natural sources:
- raw sugar
- agave nectar
These sweeteners, such as agave nectar, stevia, and xylotol, have a low glycemic index which helps balance out insulin and blood sugar, preventing drastic highs and lows. The flavors of these sweeteners are also stronger than regular table sugar, so less is required to achieve the sweetness you desire, especially in cooking or baking.
I have personally decided that white table sugar is not for me, turning to fruit and even some vegetables to wean myself from that intense sweetness. My body, though at first not happy about it, is now thanking me for it!
Kelly Wilson is a busy mom and freelance writer. Find out more about how sugar effects the health of your smile by visiting Dr. Lance Heppler, a Dentist in Vancouver, WA.