Sugar is in almost all of the food we consume on a daily basis. The claims can be confusing and completely contradicting; as some claim there is good sugar and bad sugar, while others state substitutes are better, some sugar is ok, no sugar should ever be consumed, eat it in the morning or only at night, or only consume sugar during certain months. It is unfortunate that today’s society has driven us to be secretly addicted to sugar due to the exposure in processed foods.
So what is sugar, and how can we deal with the pandemic of sugar addiction?
In short, it is a subclassification of a carbohydrate. Sugar can come in several forms. There are simple sugars such as fructose (found in fruits and root veggies), glucose (made by the body), and sucralose. There are also complex sugars like lactose (in dairy) and sucrose (table sugar). A complex sugar is simply 2 or more simple sugars combined.
Sugar is not a food group, but is rather classified within the carbohydrate category and is used by the body for fuel. Sugar has the potential to burn very quickly in the body, which can be very beneficial. You can get a quick pick me up from an apple, but it can also be very dangerous as sugary desserts will not keep you full for long.
When consumed in a large amount, sugar has adverse effects on the body. Liver distress, excess fat storage, increase of cholesterol, inability to sleep, alter hormone cascades and an addictive response in the brain are just a few of the dangers that sugar presents. Unfortunately, Americans have become unaware of just how much sugar is hidden in the food they consume daily.
Is any sugar good? Yes! The sugar found in fruits and some vegetables are healthy forms of sugar to consume. Fructose is the carbohydrate compound found in fruit, but this sugar is found in combination with other micronutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The fiber in fruit, allows for the body to slow digestion and process the sugar rather than simply storing it within the body. Naturally occurring fructose in whole foods is accompanied by so many other nutrients, that the amount of sugar consumed is able to be absorbed and well worth consuming. This type of sugar is a perfect food for the brain!
Honey, coconut sugar, and organic maple syrup as all modified natural sugars. These sugars should be used moderately. They occur naturally and have a few added vitamins, but they’re all still sugars and can alter your metabolism, blood-glucose levels, and cravings.
Fake sugars are the sugars produced completely in a lab and have been stripped of any nutritional value. These sugars are ones like refined white sugar, agave syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup. These are generally the sugars you should avoid in any amount. Fructose is a highly processed, very sweet form of sugar and is used in most sweeteners. A great example of this is high-fructose corn syrup. The unnatural process of creating HFCS creates a highly addictive response in your brain, and this chemical is used as a preservative and sweetener in a lot of processed foods (even ones you don't consider sweet, like peanut butter!)
So what can you do if you’re craving sugar?
Try eating foods high in good fats and proteins;. Fish, cheese, and nuts are very filling and will keep you satisfied and less likely to consume sugary treats.
If you like chocolate, switch to dark. Dark chocolate (>70%) tends to have lower sugar content and is quite delicious (At least Dr. Erin thinks so!).
Add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder to your coffee, oatmeal, etc. These spices are generally associated with sweets and will let your brain think you are consuming something sweet.
Check to see if you’re just bored. Bored eating is one of the biggest reasons for weight gain. Go for a walk, exercise, read, or distract yourself in some way and retrain your brain to crave movement rather than processed sugar.
Sugar, when consumed in whole foods, is essential to life. Natural fructose and be changed by the liver to glucose which energizes the body. However, an excess of sugar and processed sugar, creates a myriad of problems within the body. Sugar can be hiding in many forms and in any food!