By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD
Sugar is unavoidable. Forget the food part for a second and consider the amount of (literal) sweet-talking we do. We show affection with terms like sugar, sweetie and honey. Our music is sugar-soaked too, from the classic “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” to the wilder “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. Even little girls are made of sugar and spice (though “everything nice” is questionable).
Unfortunately, the amount of sweet-talking we do is nothing compared to the amount of sweet eating we do. Over the past few years, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been demonized in the news (in my opinion, for good reason), while sugar has flown under the radar. And while it might be more natural than HFCS, sugar isn’t quite as innocent as its name implies.
Sugar is often referred to as “empty calories,” meaning there is no nutritive value whatsoever. Sure, it’s fine as the occasional treat, but many people don’t consider that there is a lot more to food than just calories. Every bite you take is an opportunity to give your body something beneficial and the more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids the better.
Sugar consumption has tripled over the last 50 years and the outcome is not pretty: more weight gain and obesity, diabetes, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Sugar is also pro-inflammatory. What was once just a “sugar high” is now a total sugar overdose.
It may sound extreme to compare sugar with a drug, but researchers argue that in excess sugar actually does have toxic effects comparable to alcohol. It also has a clear dependence-producing effect on the brain; as with alcohol and tobacco there is major potential for addiction and abuse. Anyone who’s ever tried a sugar cleanse wouldn’t argue against the detox-like cravings and headaches.
So what can you do? It’s time for a very quick dip into nutrition labels. A future post will be dedicated to the brutal art of label reading, but to clarify: I want the ingredients to be your first stop before the numbers. If it’s not already a habit, I challenge you to try it for two days. Here’s where it gets interesting: “Sugar” has many different identities; here are the most popular:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Moderation is a popular word right now. But what most think is “eating sugar in moderation” is still far too much. I mean, when there’s sugar in your cold cuts, enjoying it in “moderation” isn’t really within your control.
What can you do? For the most part, if you want something sweet, get it from something with nutrition: FRUIT! Pineapple, watermelon, berries, apples… the possibilities are endless.
If you have to add sweetener, stevia is an all-natural, low-calorie sweetener. Of the caloric sweeteners, honey does contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and I don’t mind a bit of agave either. Whatever sweetener you choose, you should be in control of the adding – not food producers. And when you do indulge, always make it worthwhile.
My challenge to you: commit to cutting back on all added sugars for a week. I promise the first three days are the hardest. Let me know how it goes!
Are you a sugar addict? Do you look at nutrition labels? Will you give cutting back on sugar a try? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.