So, what’s wrong with sugar anyway?

The American Heart Association’s main push for decreasing the amount of added sugar a person eats is that adding such empty calories may lead to weight gain and weight gain can lead to heart disease.1

If that was all there was to it, I might not change my habits. I have a terrible sweet tooth. If my weight goes up, I cut calories across the board and don’t just zero in on sugars. But, as I’ve found out, there are other reasons to limit sugar.

Here are two good ones:

Excess sugar consumption may lead to insulin resistance.2, 3

When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels rise. Then, your pancreas releases insulin to help move sugar from your blood into your cells. As blood sugar levels go down, your insulin levels return to normal. Over time, it takes more and more insulin to get the job done. It is thought that, eventually, your pancreas sort of wears out and may be less effective at lowering blood sugars. Excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream and you’ve got a stage set for type 2 diabetes.4

Excess sugar consumption promotes inflammation in the body.5, 6

Apparently, inflammation is the real killer and is thought to be linked to a host of ailments, including heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

One thing to look at is the amount of “added sugar” in your diet. Added sugars are just that, sugar (whether it is refined or unrefined) added to a product.

According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their intake of added sugar to about six teaspoons (or 24 grams) a day. For men, it’s about nine teaspoons (or 36 grams). One 12-ounce can of soda can have eight to 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Ouch.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (fructose) and milk (lactose). Naturally occurring sugars aren’t empty calories. With them, you are getting vitamins, minerals and/or fiber, a.k.a., the good stuff you need in your diet. If you are keeping track of your carb intake, be sure to add any naturally occurring sugars in your count, but you don’t need to fret too much over them when watching out for added sugar.

Spotting added sugar requires a bit of label reading. Food manufacturers aren’t required to separate naturally occurring sugars from added sugars. The ingredients to look for in prepared products are sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice and anything that end with “ose,” such as maltose, dextrose or sucrose. As my nephew Brennen once told me, if it ends with “ose,” it’s gross.

For now, I’m going to pick on refined, white sugar. Some say it’s the devil incarnate. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but I don’t think it is doing your body any favors, even in moderation. When you eat white, refined sugar, not only are you spiking the level of sugar in your blood, you aren’t giving any nutrients to your body.

The reason to switch to less-refined sugars is they offer a bit of nutrients along with their sweet kick. Raw honey has enzymes; molasses and maple sugar have trace minerals. Plus, I just think it is a good idea to choose foods that are closest to how they are found in nature. I don’t like my food mucked around with.

Switching to less-refined sugar isn’t a license to eat more. It’s still sugar and will spike your blood levels and add calories.

When you do indulge in a sweet treat, eat one that has a little fat in it, like whole-milk ice cream or a dark chocolate bar with nuts. According to Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions,” adding fats to sweets “slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients …”

Yes, that means whole-milk ice cream with nuts is back on the menu! Especially if you can find it sweetened with natural sugars or make it yourself.

Here are some of my favorite natural sugar recipes:
Pear Walnut Cream Cheese Wontons
Pasteli- Sesame Honey Candy
Almond Date Balls
Peanut Butter Cups
Maple Syrup Bread Pudding
Maple Pralines
Maple Turtles
Almond Joy Knock Offs

Food for Thought:
“Sugar in any form or refined carbohydrates (white food) drives the good cholesterol down, cause triglycerides to go up, creates small damaging cholesterol particles, and causes metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. That is the true cause of most heart attacks, NOT LDL cholesterol.” Mark Hyman MD; Why Cholesterol May Not Be the Cause Of Heart Disease

end notes
1 http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3068932
2 http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/292/8/978.extract
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709452?dopt=Abstract
4 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-2-diabetes/DS00585/DSECTION=causes
5 http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/What-you-eat-can-fuel-or-cool-inflammation-a-key-driver-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-other-chronic-conditions.shtml
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402291?dopt=Abstract

Participating in Monday Mania.