In recent years, sugar has been a huge point of controversy. I have to admit that I’ve fallen victim to simply absorbing the information in bits and pieces, which has left me with a less than comprehensive understanding of the topic. So I’m setting out to educate myself. The subject seems a bit too broad for just one blog post, so I plan to cover it again, but for starters, there are three main questions I’d like to address:
1. Are there good and bad sugars? If so, what are they and where are they found?
2. How much sugar is within a healthy range in a person’s diet?
3. What are some hidden sources of sugar we consume on a daily basis?
The good, the bad and sweets for the sweet
Just an initial Google search landed me on a plethora of information about “good” and “bad” sugars. The overwhelming consensus states that sugars in their most natural state can be classified as “good.” Most of the articles make an effort to point out that the reason for this categorization comes from the additional nutritional benefits of the foods containing natural sugar. For instance, apples feature a decent amount of sugar, but it comes bundled with fiber, Vitamin C and antioxidants (including one called quercetin which boosts workouts by making oxygen more available to the lungs!). Also, the fiber slows the release of glucose to the bloodstream, allowing the body more time to process it.
Bad sugars are refined, processed, man-injected. It is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. This makes the liver work harder to break it all down (since it is responsible for processing glucose). Even worse is when it comes in liquid form. Too much glucose hits the organ all at once, causing a good portion of it to be converted to fat. I’m fairly certain this is what happens when you drink alcohol (s0 sad!)
To summarize, good sugars are fine in moderation and can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, agave nectar and honey.
Bad sugars are added in by man and are found in foods such as candy, fruit juice concentrate and soda.
How much is enough?
This one is easy to answer. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men. Overdoing it on sugar has been linked to health issues such as obesity, liver complications and metabolic diseases.
Controversy about sugar “addiction” remains unresolved, but we do know that this substance affects the same parts of your brain chemicals as some drugs – dopamine and serotonin. People have reported symptoms of withdrawal after making a sugar cutback – anxiety, headaches, jitters. Even if it’s not a “habit,” higher levels of sugar and glucose in your blood can lead to a “high,” which inevitably leads to the crashing “low” which leaves you super hungry.
Where is it hiding?!
Throughout my research, I found a few foods that I was surprised to learn had sugar in them. These are the top three:
1. Yogurt – the good news is, however, that even though there is added sugar in yogurt, generally the protein (in Greek yogurt), calcium and probiotics make this a good food. You just have to read the labels to find out how much sugar has been added and limit!
2. Bread – I just don’t think of grains as having sugar, but they do! White bread is the worst in this category – the fiber-filled grain and bran are removed in processing, meaning that the starchy, sugary part is absorbed most quickly, causing a sugar high as referenced above. Whole grain bread has native nutrients that are far better for you, including iron, calcium, potassium, copper, etc.
3. Ketchup! One of my favorite condiments, this sugary side can have as many as six grams of added sugar in an ounce. (In case you were wondering, four grams of sugar = one teaspoon). Use in moderation, I guess.
I try to avoid most processed foods, because it’s easier than figuring out what’s in them and worrying about how it will affect my health, but this research helped me get a better grasp on kinds of sugar and foods that contain it. It’s still not a good idea to down a bushel of fruit or a bottle of honey in one day, because though these are “good” sugars, too much of anything is not a good idea!
What’s your favorite source of sugar?