Sugar reminds me of the movie “Catch Me If You Can”. It goes by many different names and comes in many different forms. One common myth about sugar is that it’s all bad. Not ALL sugar is bad in moderation! Let’s dive into what sugar is and the different kinds of sugars!
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate found in many foods and beverages. It can be found in both whole foods (unprocessed) and processed foods.
Added sugars are sugars that have been added to processed foods and have no nutritional benefit. Some of these added sugars include sucrose (white table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup. Added sugars are used in a wide variety of products, including (but not limited to) ketchup, peanut butter, barbecue sauce, steak sauces, and marinara sauce.
Natural sugars come with other healthy nutrients and occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy, and naturally occurring sweeteners (pure honey, pure maple syrup, and agave nectar). While natural sugars are still sugar and shouldn’t be overconsumed, the foods they are found in contain beneficial nutrients that outweigh the sugars they contain. They typically also elevate blood sugars to a lesser degree.
Sugars are found in many forms. All forms can be used by our body for energy. However, if too much sugar is consumed, the body will store excess sugars in the form fat.
So, what does sugar do in the body you ask? Sugar stimulates a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens is the area of the brain associated with motivation, novelty, and reward. Sugar leads to dopamine release in is this part of the brain. This is the same region of the brain that responds to substance use such as cocaine and heroin. The more this area of the brain is stimulated with sugar, the more sugar it takes to get the same ‘high’ or feeling of satisfaction.
When looking at various food labels to see the added sugars vs. natural sugars in an item, the label should look like this:
You will see the total sugars listed at 12 grams. It also notes that this product includes 10 grams of added sugars. So, 10 of those 12 grams of total sugars are added sugar, and 2 grams are natural sugars. This product is probably not the healthiest product choice. You want to limit the amount of added sugars and aim to consume foods where most of the sugars are naturally occurring.
While there is no recommended limit on the amount of natural sugars one should consume daily, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons (38 grams) for men. It is important to note, however, that we should try to consume three servings of vegetables for every one serving of fruit. While fruit does contain natural sugars, it is still sugar and too much can be more harmful than helpful to your health.
Overall, limit your total sugar intake and when you do have a sweet craving, reach for a food containing sugars naturally occurring! Your body will thank you!
If you are interested in learning more about the health risks of sugars, call me (Katelyn) at 641-421-9342 or visit us online at www.cghealth.com.
Katelyn Nicholson, RDN, LD
Public Health Dietitian
CG Public Health