The recent consensus among the health conscious crowd is that sugar is bad for you. It’s blamed for everything from expanding waistlines to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact, some are even shying away from eating fruit because of its sugar content. But is sugar really bad for you?
While some might say that sugar is sugar — especially in low-carb or Paleo circles — the truth is that all sugar is not equal. Although at a molecular level glucose, fructose and sucrose is the same whether it’s in table sugar or fruit, the way your body processes it is not the same at all. So, what accounts for the difference? It’s all about the source and whether the sugar is natural or refined.
Let’s take fruit for example. The first distinction is that the sugar in fruit is naturally occurring. It is not manufactured or refined. In addition to sugar, fruit also contains hearty amounts of fiber and water that help to fill you up. So, you are not likely to overeat on apples or oranges or bananas. Contrary to what some might have you believe, a study published by the National Institutes for Health showed that eating whole fruit actually decreases the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt also contain naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Like the fiber found in fruit, the protein and essential fats found in unsweetened dairy foods help satiate you. Your body breaks down the natural sugars in fruits and dairy slowly without causing drastic spikes in your blood sugar level.
On the contrary, refined sugars made from sugar cane or sugar beets and present in processed foods are metabolized very quickly causing insulin and blood sugar levels to soar. The sugars present in processed foods often contain little to no additional nutritional value which is why they are often referred to asempty calories. This leaves most feeling unsatisfied no matter how many calories they consume and can even spur additional sugar cravings.
What about artificial sweeteners?
When artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose hit the market in products like Sweet n’ Low, Splenda and Equal, they seemed like a dream come true for those looking to lower their added sugar consumption. With their intense sweetness and zero calories they were quickly adopted by millions as a “healthy” sugar alternative. Although they have been scrutinized and researched for decades and deemed safe for human consumption, artificial sweeteners should still be used in moderation as their long term effects are relatively unknown.
Although artificial sweeteners have no calories, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Neuroscience revealed that rats that consumed saccharin for 14 days actually ate more food and gained more weight than rats that ate regular table sugar. Their core body temperatures dropped and in turn their metabolisms slowed. This may be attributed to the fact that artificial sweeteners are up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar, which can trigger your body to crave more sweetness and inhibit your ability to self regulate calorie consumption.
The bottom line on sugar is this. Naturally occurring sugar like that found in fruits and dairy products is not bad for you. So, don’t shun these foods just because of their sugar content. You can even enjoy added sugars in moderation. Obviously, less is more when it comes to added sugar but according to the American Heart Association, men can consume up to 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons per day and women can safely consume up to 25 grams or 6 teaspoons per day. Lastly, use artificial sweeteners sparingly as they can have the complete opposite of their intended effect on your body.
Remember, it’s always best to snack on something naturally sweet over something processed. Here are some great naturally sweet choices:
Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and calcium which earned them a spot as one of the top 10 fruits in antioxidant power. One cup has only 7 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.
A half cup of blackberries contains 3.5 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. Low in calories, blackberries are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Ten raspberries have a little less than one gram of sugar, one gram of fiber, and only 10 calories. Plus, some new studies say that the raspberry ketone in raspberries “may be extremely beneficial to weight loss.” It interferes with fat cells and may actually help keep the body from digesting and absorbing fat.
A generous serving of 50 blueberries contains about 7 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. Blueberries are packed with additional nutrients including iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin K.