Chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, glazed donuts, coconut cream pie, who can resist the temptation of sugar? Not many. It’s strongly linked to the raising obesity rates throughout the world. Sugar is addictive and once we introduce it to our bodies every day, our brains begin to tell us we need it.
A hundred years ago, US adults consumed 2 pounds of sugar per person per year. Fast forward to present day and the average person eats 150 pounds per year. That’s half a pound of sugar per day. Half a pound!
How have our sugar intakes risen so high? Sugar is in everything we consume. Breakfast cereals, pasta, bread, salsa, protein bars, deli meat, bottled beverages, it all contains sugar. All the foods touted as healthy and marketed to the world contain sugar in some form.
To understand why, we have to look back to the beginning of the low-fat diet craze. When you remove fat from a food, you also remove all the flavor so the food industry had to find a way to make their food tasty. The solution: Sugar and Salt. By adding these two addictive ingredients, the food became delicious, addictive and dangerous. There is truth in Pringles “once you pop, you can’t stop.” Even Brad Pitt fell victim in this overly-80’s Pringles commercial. Without fat, your brain never receives the signal that you’re full. You can eat the entire box, equivalent to 900 calories, and still be hungry.
One-third of children and two-thirds of US adults are overweight or obese. Obesity has surpassed food scarcity and hunger as the primary food-related health risk. Simple sugar consumption is significantly linked to weight gain and obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. US foods have of course spread to every corner of the world and with it comes the spread of these health issues. Diabetes is on the rise the world over and correlations have been found between the amount of sugar available per person and the prevalence of diabetes in the population.
Fructose, Glucose and Sucrose
Sugar is sugar. Our tastebuds do not discriminate when it comes to sugar. Our bodies are another story. Every sugar is processed and used differently in the body.
Simple carbohydrates are either classified as monosaccharides or disaccharides. A monosaccharide is one sugar unit. Glucose and fructose* are monosaccharides and they link together to form sucrose, a disaccharide. Most carbohydrates we eat are metabolized into glucose, which is also called blood sugar. It is either used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells or liver as glycogen to be used later.
Fructose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables and is also a common added sugar. It relies on the liver for metabolism, which makes it very different from glucose or sucrose. Reliance on the liver makes it more fat-producing and is not a preferred energy source for muscles or the brain. Insulin plays a key role in the processing of glucose but not fructose. This is problematic because leptin that regulates energy intake and usages is only triggered by insulin. So fructose acts more like fat than all other carbohydrates.
Fruits, vegetables and many added sugars also contain sucrose. When the body ingests sucrose, it’s structure is broken down to separate the glucose from the fructose then they are metabolized accordingly. The percentage of glucose to fructose varies with every food. If a food contains more fructose than glucose, more of that food will be treated like fat.
Another concerning point about fructose is that it’s instrumental in damaging and aging our tissues by a process called fluctuation or fructosylation. Fructose caramelizes the arteries in the heart, kidneys and eyes. It’s best to choose foods that have a higher ratio of glucose, and especially if you’re insulin-resistant. Grapes, apples and honey are high in fructose and bananas, grapefruit and plums are low. Check out this chart from Loren Cordain to see the levels of common fruits and sugars. http://thepaleodiet.com/fruits-and-sugars/
*high fructose corn syrup is not the same as fructose.
Types of Added Sugars
Food manufacturers are not required to list “added” sugars in grams on food labels, making it impossible to know how much of the sugar is natural and how much is added. Natural sugar exists in fruits, vegetables, dairy, starches, nuts and legumes.
Below is a list of the most common types of added sugar. Some are straight forward, while many are unfamiliar like treacle, which is another name for molasses.
Brown rice syrup
Cane juice crystals
Coconut palm sugar
Corn syrup solids
Dehydrated cane juice
Erythritol – sugar alcohol
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Xylitol – sugar alcohol
Tips for Avoiding Added Sugar
►Read labels carefully. If you don’t recognize an ingredient. Put it back on the shelf and walk away. Or research it before eating it.
►For beverages, add your own sweeteners. Skip the sports drinks, choose black coffee or plain sparkling water and add your own flavoring. Honey, maple syrup, coconut milk and lemon go a long way and will leave you feeling better than the mystery syrup at your coffee shop. Carry it with you. I always have a packet of these honey crystals with me, Nektar Naturals.
►Make treats at home. That way you control how much sugar goes into each serving. I have a high sensitivity to sweetness so I add half the recommended sugar in most recipes.
►Sugar-free does not mean free of added sugars. There are plenty of sugar alcohols in a stick of gum and all the candy marketed to people with diabetes. Fake sugar only increases your sugar craving and feeds your addiction.
►Skip the condiments. Ketchup and salad dressings are loaded with sugar. Ask for olive oil and vinegar for salads and switch to mustard as a dipping sauce.
►Choose whole fruit for dessert. Dark chocolate at 60% and above is also a good choice, containing very little sugar.
►Join a program and community to guide you through the process of eliminating added sugar from your diet. Try the 21 Day Sugar Detox, a whole-foods approach to reduce sugar cravings.
Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation.http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2012/Accelerating-Progress-in-Obesity-Prevention.aspx
Sugar’s Role In Rise Of Diabetes Gets Clearer. 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/28/173170149/sugars-role-in-rise-of-diabetes-gets-clearer
Simple Sugar Intake and Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Epidemiological and Mechanistic Insight. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25533006
Is It Paleo? Fructose and Fructose-Based Sweeteners (I’m looking at you, Agave!) http://www.thepaleomom.com/2014/12/paleo-fructose-fructose-based-sweeteners-im-looking-agave.html
What Is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-sucrose-glucose-fructose-8704.html
Is All Sugar Created Equal?, http://chriskresser.com/is-all-sugar-created-equal
Is Refined Sugar Really Toxic?, http://chriskresser.com/is-refined-sugar-really-toxic
50 Other Names for Sugar, http://www.organicauthority.com/health/50-other-names-for-sugar.html