Glucose, coconut sugar, high fructose corn syrup – sugar is sugar, right? Not exactly! Not all sugar is created equal, and not all sugar is bad. What are the different forms of sugar and how do they affect our bodies?
Despite being one of the most demonized foods, sugar actually plays a critical role in ensuring optimal bodily function. All carbohydrates are comprised of various sugars – vegetables included! Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy and are absolutely essential for brain, kidney, and liver function.
There are two main sources of sugar in our diet, those that are naturally occurring and those that are added. Naturally occurring sugars come from whole food sources such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice. Sugar is inherently part of these foods – no additional processing has been done to sweeten up strawberries! Conversely, added sugar includes any food that has been processed or prepared in such a way that sugar or other caloric sweeteners have been added. Major sources of added sugar in the American diet include sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and some grains.
So what does added sugar do to our health? On average, U.S. adults are consuming far too much added sugar, which has been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular disease. What may be even more concerning is the impact on children; excessive added sugar consumption has been linked to increased weight gain, and increased blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Many studies that assert the negative health effects of added sugar indicate that it is being consumed in excess but what is excessive? And how can you make more informed food choices? The AHA recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and children and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Fortunately, the FDA is making it much easier to interpret nutrition labels. By 2020, the nutrition facts label must indicate the amount of sugar that is being added to a product – many companies have already adopted this change. Hidden added sugars can be tricky to identify, some of the most common names found in the list of ingredients include: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, molasses and anything that ends in “-ose”.
So what’s the bottom line? When we think of added sugar or naturally occurring sugar in our diet, the key is to think big picture. What do our dietary patterns generally look like for the week? The month? Or even the year! Added sugar can negatively impact our health if consumed excessively over time. By reading nutrition facts and ingredient lists, it’s easier to make more informed choices about what exactly you’re consuming!
Dong, D., Bilger, M., Dam, R. M., & Finkelstein, E. A. (2015). Consumption of specific foods and beverages and excess weight gain among children and adolescents. Health Affairs,34(11), 1940-1948.
Kell, K. P., Cardel, M. I., Brown, M. M., & Fernández, J. R. (2014). Added sugars in the diet are positively associated with diastolic blood pressure and triglycerides in children. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,100(1), 46-52.
Robertson, C. (2014). Faculty of 1000 evaluation for added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. F1000 - Post-publication Peer Review of the Biomedical Literature.