Crazy addictive, terrible debilitating, too many forms to keep a track of, leads to obesity…but so DELICIOUS!!
We all know America is going through an obesity epidemic, but if we could pinpoint one of its leading culprits, it would be SUGAR.
So why not just QUIT SUGAR? American becomes healthier, more energetic, and we all build up our health as a nation.
Well sadly, there is a lot more to the story than just that. If you want to learn more about the different types of sugar and how it affects you, then this article is for you!
In this article, I will try to explore some of your questions such as:
- What is sugar?
- Is it really that bad for you?
- What happens in your body and brain when you eat sugar
- How many types of sugars are there? (Spoiler alert…A LOT)
- My diet/“no sugar added” soda cannot be that bad, right?
Cutting sugar is an extremely difficult lifestyle change as sugar is all around us. If you find yourself yo-yoing with your weight and glucose/insulin levels, talk to one of our providers and schedule a visit with our medical weight management center so that a professional may address your unique and specific nutritional needs.
Before digging straight into the ~sweet center~ of this article, I want you all to know just how massive of a problem sugar is in our daily lives. Obesity affects about 40% of Americans which is almost 100 million people!!
1822: Americans consume 45 grams of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in a can of coke.
Present day: Americans consume 410 grams of sugar every five days, or 66 POUNDS of sugar a year.
As we have (literally) grown as a country, sugar continues to play an increasing role in not only our foods and drinks, but almost everything we put inside of us, including our breath fresheners and cough medications!
According to the University of California San Francisco and the World Health Organization (WHO), the limit of daily sugar is 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women, and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men. However, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) per day. That converts into about 66 pounds of added sugar we eat every year…per person!!
What is a Sugar
Sugar is a generic name for a sweet tasting, soluble carbohydrate. A quick trick to identify this is if it ends in
“-ose” it is a sugar.
Below is a list of the more commonly occurring sugars we see every day:
Glucose: This sugar occurs naturally in plants and fruits, but can also be produced by our bodies when needed. Glucose drives many of our intricate micro-cellular bodily functions. It can be burned as energy or converted into glycogen for liver and muscle fuel. This is also the indicator on your blood tests to see if you have insulin resistance or diabetes, or if you are simply consuming too much sugar.
Fructose: This sugar occurs naturally in our fruits and is very sweet. Fructose can also be found in cane sugar and honey. This can be used as a “safer” sweetener (in moderate doses) for people with Type 2 Diabetes as it causes a lower rise in blood sugar.
Sucrose: This is a more complex sugar which can be found in the roots of sugar beet or in the stems of sugarcane. Sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose joined together, and most commonly seen as our basic table sugar.
Lactose: This sugar is basically milk sugar. Most of us have enzymes in our bodies used to break down a molecule into lactose, which will be used throughout the body. However, for the people who cannot break down lactose, we call them lactose intolerant.
Where Does It Come From?
Sugar is usually created as the result of processing sugar cane, sugar beets, or both. The plants are harvested, processed and then refined to become the sugar we consume every day. Different types of sugars (I will cover later on) can also be combined to make a new type of sugar, just as glucose + fructose = sucrose.
What Happens In Our Bodies When We Consume Sugar?
Once you have consumed sugar, two things can happen:
- We burn it for energy!
- It is converted into fat and stored as fat cells… 🙁
How we process sugar is dependent on our genetic predispositions; some bodies have a higher tendency to process sugar for more energy, while others are more likely to store it as fat. This also depends on how slow or fast our metabolisms are.
The main issue, however, is that there is a LOT more room in our bodies for fat storage, than there is room to burn to the sugar as energy.
Now your pancreas will detect this rush of sugar and release the hormone insulin to regulate all the extra sugar.
Insulin helps regulate our blood sugar levels. More sugar = more insulin. Insulin is what helps store all of the excess glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen, and in fat cells as triglycerides.
More insulin= higher triglycerides (bad!)
Hypoglycemia (sugar crash) occurs when we consume a lot of sugar in a short period of time, which releases a lot of insulin and throws off our hormonal balance. This makes us crave sugar more, which can lead to a sugar binge.
The more often the cycle of hypoglycemia and sugar binging takes place, the more severe the blood sugar spikes become, and thus the more insulin becomes required. When this happens, our bodies begin to skip using sugar as energy, and goes straight to storing it as fat.
But Wait, There’s More!
Insulin also affects a hormone called LEPTIN, which is our body’s natural appetite suppressant. Leptin is what tells our brain, “I’m full. Stop eating.” Imbalanced insulin levels, along with eating a lot of sugar, leads to a condition called leptin resistance. With this condition, the brain can no longer “hear” the messages to stop eating, which then promotes weight gain and obesity.
Can’t I Just Eat Less Sugar? That Will Solve All My Problems, Right?
Sugar consumption is only half of the issue. A lot of issues also follow our increased carbohydrate (“carb”) consumption. Our bodies can actually process certain carbohydrates in a very similar way to processing pure sugar.
Glycemic Index? Glycemic Load? What In The World?
When reading health articles online about different types of food and blood sugar levels, you may have stumbled across these terms.
Glycemic Index is a calculation of how quickly a particular type of food increases a person’s blood sugar level. This is ranked on a scale of 1-100 (100 being pure glucose. An example of rood rankings is listed below:
According to a study by Harvard researchers, food like white bread, French fries and other simple carbohydrates have almost identical effects to our blood sugar as glucose.
Remember, the more refined, or processed, a food is, the more likely it will quickly get converted to sugar for the body to process.
This is why it is heavily advised to stay away from, or at least limit the intake or processed foods and carbohydrates.
What Foods Should I Avoid to Reduce Sugar??
This is actually a really tricky question. As I mentioned before, sugar is EVERYWHERE!! Want some low-fat yogurt? It has sugar. Non-fat salad dressing? It has sugar (actually more that its regular dressing counterpart). “No sugar added” juice or soda? That has sugar too. Dried fruit, smoothies, granola bars and whole-grain bagels… you guessed it. Sugar, sugar and more sugar! Man, it is frustrating!! What is a person supposed to eat?
One of the most impactful ways to monitor your sugar intake is to pay special attention to nutrition labels and the ingredients section of our food labels. Sure, it is tedious to stand there in the middle of Walmart reading a list of words we cannot pronounce, but it can definitely change your mind as to whether you want to buy a specific food item or not.
But Why Change the Names of the Sugars??
Nutritional companies are required by law to list their most prominent ingredients first. What they will do is use different types of sugars with different names, and spread out the sugar content across those different sugar names. This way, rather than seeing a TON of sugar as the first and heaviest ingredient, (which would definitely turn me away from buying that product) companies use many of the different names and spread it out around the ingredient list. Sneaky!
So, know your sugar names and read ingredient lists!
What about fruit sugar??
With fruit cleanses and detoxes, it seems like you can never eat too much fruit. But what about all the fructose in these fruits?
This is a tricky topic because in the end, fruit is beneficial and something we all need to incorporate in our diets. Fruit is full of healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber. But at the end of the day, fructose is still sugar, and overdoing sugar of any kind is bad. Thankfully however, binging on fruit causes a less severe sugar spike than binging on carbs, cakes and other sweets.
But in the end, all good things are only good in moderation. If weight loss and healthy nutrition is your aim, look for fruits with a lower glycemic index and even those with fewer carbs. Additionally, you should consume more vegetables, if possible.
Fruits Are Okay…What About Fruit Juices??
We have seen that low glycemic fruits are okay in moderation. However, the same cannot really be said about fruit juices. In fact, it has been found that one cup of some of our favorite fruit juices has the same amount of sugar and calories as one cup of soda…if not more!
According to Healthline, many popular food manufacturing companies label their products as “100% pure” and “not from concentrate”. But when squeezing out the fruit juice, all nutrients and fiber content is left behind, preservatives and *extra sugar* is added and then the juice is held in massive oxygen-depleted tanks for up to a year before it is packaged!! So, when you are buying your “freshly squeezed” juice from the supermarket, remember that the juice, which should more appropriately be called sugar water, is far from “pure” and “freshly squeezed”.
Additionally, Healthline also gives us an example of just how much sugar is in our juices:
- Coca Cola: 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons)
- Apple juice: 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar (9.8 teaspoons)
- Orange juice – 21g of sugar
- Naked *all natural/no sugar added* juices– 35g of sugar
- Cranberry juice – 37g of sugar
- Grape juice – 38g of sugar
End message: if you want to drink fruit juice, it is a better idea to juice them yourself.
Final Comment: Hopefully this article has given you more insight into the sugar epidemic we are facing as a nation. Please revisit our blog as we will be posting more articles about sugar, as well as on many other health topics. If you have any health questions regarding sugar or want personalized guidance on how to monitor and lower your sugar intake, please feel free to make an appointment with a provider or nutritionist at our Delta Medical Weight Management center. We would be very happy to discuss this further with you.
Call our office at 662-280-8222 or email [email protected] if you have questions.
Ulric Duncan MD, Diplomate of Obesity Medicine
9140 Highway 51 North
Southaven MS 38671
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Written by Zeenat Mirza