In years past, war was waged against fat and cholesterol in the diet. Today, however, a new enemy has surfaced, and its name is ‘added sugar.' Added sugar includes any sugars or syrups added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.
Before we declare war against sugar, however, it is important to distinguish between the sugar added to our foods, and sugar occurring naturally in whole foods like fruit.
Natural sugar comes packaged as God intended with things such as protein, fiber, and other nutrients that slow digestion and make it a healthier choice. This difference illustrates the concept of nutrient density, where a healthier choice has more nutrients per calorie consumed. In other words, a nutrient dense choice gives you more bang for your nutrition buck. You can learn more about nutrient density by visiting Christian Care Ministry’s Wellness Library.
On the contrary, added sugar is digested quickly and does not come packaged with other beneficial nutrients. This kind of sugar simply adds extra calories to the diet and potentially replaces healthier food choices. Common sources of added sugars in the American diet include sweetened beverages, desserts, and processed foods.
So what can consuming added sugar do to our bodies? It can….
- Increase our risk for tooth decay- There is a good reason why your dentist warns against sugary drinks. Tooth decay is caused when bacteria in your mouth uses the energy in sugar to make acids that attacks your tooth enamel.
- Increase our risk for malnutrition- It seems unbelievable, but it is possible for someone to be overweight/obese, yet malnourished. Sugar by itself contributes calories (energy) but no other essential nutrients (things like vitamins, minerals, and fiber). If calories from added sugars are consumed in place of calories from more nutrient dense food choices, then deficiencies can occur, regardless of body weight.
- Increase our preference for sweetness- Research has shown that consuming sugar causes pleasure and cravings equivalent to those caused by addictive drugs. These sensations encourage eaters to consume more than is needed, which often leads them to become overweight or obese.
How does added sugar increase risk for chronic disease?
The sugar added to our foods and beverages is generally in the form of simple sugars. A growing body of scientific research suggests that increased intake of simple sugars is associated with increased risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Increased intake of simple sugars is also associated with higher blood glucose levels and elevated insulin production.
Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key. It unlocks your body’s cells, thereby allowing sugar to enter from your bloodstream and be used for energy. Increased insulin production stimulates the liver to produce fat, which elevates blood triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels have been linked to increased risk for heart disease. Furthermore, consistently elevated blood sugar levels have also been linked to increased risk for type II diabetes.
A recently released film on Netflix titled, “Sugar Coated,” has brought concerns over added sugar to the forefront. This film suggests that food manufacturers have been covering up scientific evidence that added sugar is unhealthy. It brings to light that sugar manufacturers were responsible for funding research that implicated fat, not sugar, as the source of many health concerns. This caused consumers to demand more fat-free food options. Because foods with less fat are less appetizing, the food industry used more sugar, leading to an increased amount of added sugar in processed foods.
There are several ways you can decrease the amount of added sugars you consume on a regular basis. Here are some ideas to try:
- Eat more whole foods and less processed foods
- Know what counts as added sugar
Seventy-four percent of packaged foods have added sugar. These sugars may not be noticeable at first because sugar has at least 56 different names. Check out this list.
- Read the nutrition label
Avoid products that list any sugar as one of the first 3-5 ingredients. Compare products like yogurt and choose a lower sugar option.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit
- Incorporate healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado into your diet. A healthy fat can help you feel more satisfied and minimize cravings for sweet things.
On a final note, be mindful when you eat. Are you eating out of hunger or some other reason? Keep healthy options easy to grab and if you’re not really hungry, replace eating with a productive behavior that will actually relieve the boredom, stress, or sadness that you are experiencing. Productive behaviors like prayer or exercise will help you feel good and lead to a productive, healthy life.