Sugar is by far the most widely used additive in foods and beverages across the nation. If you’re like many people, you may be taking in way more sugar than you realize. In fact, the average American consumes about three pounds of sugar in a single week, which is equivalent to around 1,767,900 Skittles Bite Size Candies over a lifetime.
While the body needs and uses sugar to sustain normal vital functions, there are certain sugars that are not at all necessary for good health and should therefore be consumed in extreme moderation or totally avoided.
What Exactly is Sugar?
In order to fully understand the ways in which sugar impacts the body, it’s important to know what exactly it is. Sugar is the chief component that makes up carbohydrates (carbs). There are two primary types of sugar—monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Monosaccharides are made up of single sugars including glucose, fructose and galactose while disaccharides are comprised of double sugars and include sucrose, maltose and lactose. Collectively, monosaccharides and disaccharides are termed simple sugars or simple carbs.
When carbs contain three or more sugars they are referred to as complex carbs.
Is Sugar Consumption Necessary?
Without a doubt, sugar has been put on the hypothetical “NO LIST” and has been blamed for most lifestyle-related health problems. However, believe it or not, severely restricting your daily intake of all-natural sugar-containing foods can severely impair normal bodily functions.
The body uses the sugar in carbs as fuel to execute vital functions at rest and during exercise. In fact, during digestion, most carbs are converted to the simple sugar glucose, which is the body’s preferred fuel source.
What Types of Foods Contain Sugar?
Unbeknownst to many, sugar is everywhere. Sucrose is one of the most common simple sugars. It can be obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets and processed into table sugar. Other simple sugars are naturally present in some vegetables, fruits (fructose), honey, milk and dairy products (galactose and lactose).
Processed foods like candy, soft drinks and syrups (corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup) are extremely dense in simple sugar additives. These sugars are also housed in products made with refined flour including white bread, regular pasta, white rice, pastries and cakes.
Foods containing multiple sugars (or complex carbs) include whole grain products, dried beans and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn and peas).
Which Types of Sugar-Containing Foods Are Unhealthy?
Processed and refined foods with added sugar are essentially devoid of nutrition, as they tend to be low in dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients. These foods also digest rapidly and cause pronounced rises in blood sugar (glucose) and even greater increases in insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood glucose.
When these foods are consumed in excess, over time, the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, which primarily contributes to type 2 diabetes. Excess intake of processed and refined foods also increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer.
Which Types of Sugar-Containing Foods are Healthy?
Natural food sources of simple sugars (vegetables and fruits) and complex carbs are extremely nutrient-dense as they contain large amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants. In addition, these foods are less likely to cause unhealthy spikes in blood glucose after consumption, which helps in both the prevention and management of diabetes and associated health problems.
All in all, it’s important to understand that quality and quantity both count when it comes to your overall sugar intake. For good health, your total daily intake of any sugar should not exceed 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) for women or 37 grams (about 9 teaspoons) for men. You should also recognize that the body DOES NOT require any carbs with added sugar to function.
Therefore, you should only include nutrient-rich sugar containing foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains as part of a healthy, balanced diet.