Should you avoid sugar?

 Photography by Brooke Lark

Photography by Brooke Lark

 
 

Sugar is a such a hot topic today in the health world. A simple Google search reveals that the sugar-free movement is alive and well with myriad "I quit sugar" campaigns where people can swear off sugar for 7 days or even 8 weeks! Despite the many purported health benefits of giving up sugar in its many forms, eliminating sugar from your diet requires dedication and creativity. Is it really something you should avoid? And how much is ok?

 

If you want to be a conscious consumer and health advocate for you and your family, it’s important to learn about how sugar affects the body and how to read labels for added sugar – sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.

Our body uses sugar, or glucose, as fuel. The carbohydrates we eat break down during digestion to give us the energy we need to power through a workout and crush our weekly goals. Although glucose plays a critical role in our diet, eating sugar and refined carbs can also spike our blood sugar. This spike is followed by the inevitable drop that comes after we eat a cookie and feel even more tired and hangry for another one! One way to avoid those spikes and drops is to avoid added sugar. Added sugar offers no nutritive value to your meal – meaning you ingest calories without any health benefit. There are also long-term effects of having increased blood sugar, potentially leading to weight gain and diabetes. Makes you wonder if that second helping of ice cream is really worth it!

 

Reducing the amount of added sugar you eat can have a profound effect on your waistline, heart health and mental clarity. Not to mention, the less added sugar you eat the fewer cravings you have for those products, causing you to crave more of the healthy food your body needs.

 

When we ingest sugar in its most natural form, such as an apple or banana, the sugar in the fruit is moderated by the fiber that the fruit also contains. The fiber stabilizes our blood sugar and gives us more sustained energy. So, the next time you reach for a snack, take a look at how much is natural and how much is added, refined sugar.

To be an informed consumer, read labels! Even if sugar is not listed as the first ingredient, many companies break down the added sugar into different kinds so that it doesn’t shock the consumer seeing sugar as the first ingredient. Look out for high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, maltose and sucrose in the ingredient list. New labeling guidelines require companies to list total sugar and added sugar which further empowers you to make the best choice.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons a day for men and 6 teaspoons a day for women of added sugar. One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams, so that’s just 24 grams of added sugar per day. You would reach half of your daily recommended amount with a Starbucks soy vanilla latte! With some snack bars, you’re looking at up to 18 g or 4.5 teaspoons of sugar. Most of the bars have both brown rice syrup and cane syrup which adds to this high value.

A much better alternative to your favorite protein or energy bar that is often chock full of added sugar are whole fruit or vegetable bars that utilize dates or raisins instead of refined sugar. You get the same great taste without the sluggish afternoon drag. Choose products that don’t add refined sugar and your body will thank you!

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