Now, I happen to have a sweet tooth. I mean...I like sugar. However, I have felt its effects for some time now and so I've made a conscious effort to cut it back if not almost out of my diet (except at Christmas!) At least refined sugars (sugars taken out of their natural state.)
So this post is meant to be informative and to help you come to your own conclusions regarding sugar. I won't be trying to say to not eat a cookie or ice cream ever again, but maybe raise some awareness of what sugar (in all its different forms) is; based on just a bit of the vast amount of information out there.
There is so much to read and study about sugar but I won't be doing that here. I just want to share a few things I learned along the way and also a few things I discovered personally with sugar consumption.
1. The only sugar form your body needs or will use is glucose.
Although the body does require sugar (glucose), as this is the only fuel the brain can use, it is important to remember the physiology of digestion. The properly functioning human organism can produce all the glucose the brain needs through the digestion of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. 1 Dr. John Yudkin of Queens College, London, states "all human nutritional needs can be met in full without having to take a single spoonful of white or brown or raw sugar." 2
So, understanding that our body doesn't NEED any additional sugar beyond what we can get from fruits and unprocessed whole grains helps us to see where sugar should be in our diet. After all, sugar shouldn't be in our food pyramid at all as we don't need it. I mean, in America we are going to consume it, but need to understand that it's not just an empty calorie, it's been found to be detrimental to our health when we consume it in quantity every day.
Americans typically consume around 150 pounds of sugar a year based on a USDA finding. That includes sugar we add to our food as well as processed food, soda, bread, crackers, candy, desserts and so on... 3
I found different stats online for this but the point is, we as Americans eat A LOT of sugar! So, therein the problem lies.
Now this is true up to a point. High-Fructose Sugar is a different form of sugar which can only be metabolized in the liver. It is therefore thought to be worse than sucrose or the conventional white sugar. But, sugar is still sugar. So, be it brown, raw, turbinado, agave, molasses and even honey...it's still sugar.
So when baking, it really doesn't matter too much if you use white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, or agave nectar ((Read: The Truth About Agave).
Why? Because most sugars have the same effect on the body. So, there really isn't a "healthy sugar" except what is naturally occurring in fruits and unprocessed foods.
BlackStrap molasses was actually the only sugar that had some beneficial properties. In one tablespoon, it has 14% of the RDA for calcium and 28% for iron. 4 It's still sugar, but it does at least give you a bit of nutrition with it.
I personally believe that raw honey is a better sugar for you as well. As long as it's unrefined and not pasteurized, it has some healing properties in it that make it valuable for a natural remedy. It still needs to be used in moderation as it actually "raises blood sugar levels more than sucrose (white sugar)." 5
The reason this information is important is so we understand that no matter what type of sugar we're eating, it's still sugar and needs to be moderated. As Americans we tend to think, "it's the healthy version so I can eat as much as I want" and that's just not true.
3. Sugar has a negative impact on our overall health.
It seems a bit amazing to me to see that so many studies need to be done in order to link sugar consumption to health issues and obesity. You'll still find conflicting studies as cola producers who conduct their own research say "Why, no! Soda doesn't make children fat." It seems we've lost the common sense of better times to think we need to spend millions of dollars to prove what we're already seeing...sugar leads to obesity and obesity can lead to health problems.
We've all seen the effects of sugar on a group of toddlers before...if you haven't then trust me, it's not fun! So, why is it difficult for us to believe that sugar consumed in large amounts doesn't cause other issues?
Here are a few:
Tooth decay - bacteria on our teeth "grabs" the sugar, feeds on it and turns it into plaque...yuck.
Raises your Insulin Level - Our bodies produce insulin to suppress the effects of sugar in our bodies. However, if we start to produce too much insulin, this can lead to high blood pressure, sodium retention and osteoporosis.
Depresses the Immune System - White blood cells need a large amount of vitamin C to fight bacteria and viruses. Sugar however, has a chemical composition very similar to Vitamin C. When there's too much sugar around, it ends up taking the place of vitamin C.
Upsets the Body's Mineral Balance - "Refined sugars contain no nutrients (vitamins and minerals) of their own. So in order for them to be absorbed by the body, they have to use the nutrients already stored in the body. They thus reduce the levels of essential minerals and vitamins in the body without providing any benefits."6
Contributes to Weight Gain - "When the body receives an appropriate amount of sugar, in more complex forms, throughout the day, it can absorb and process the sugar as energy over the course of the day. However, when the body has too much sugar, two things happen: first, the body will concentrate on burning the sugar, because it is a toxic substance, instead of burning the fat reserves you already have. Second, what the body can't burn right away, it will store as additional saturated fat stores. So too much sugar not only keeps you from maintaining a good weight or even losing weight, but it definitely adds to the fat you have to carry around." 7
So what does this all mean? I guess to sum it all up; "a little sugar goes a long way." It's most important to know as much as we can so we can make the best informed food choices for us and our families. (And again, I hardly mentioned high fructose corn syrup which would be a post in itself! HFC is found in almost every processed food, including bread to barbeque sauce.)
Kids are naturally drawn to sugar and they have been the biggest victims so far. Fruit juices (there's no need for a fruit juice...whole fruit is so much better), soda, candy, chips, pretzels and so on are a constant distraction for them.
We never made the mistake of "outlawing" these foods to our kids, but instead helped them to understand how the food would impact them. Sometimes they would listen, other times they would overeat junk food, but so far, they are making some really great food choices for ages 16 and 19. Isn't that the point anyway? To help them to learn how to choose wisely?
Okay, that's it! Hope you were able to learn a few things...blessings!
Notes and Bibliography:
2. Yudkin, John, Sweet and Dangerous, Wyden, 1972.
Of further interest:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth (Video: Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods.
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