We all have a sweet tooth. Sometimes we just need a little sugary treat to get us through our day. This daily treat can take the form of candy, cookies, ice cream, sugary coffee, or even fruits. There are different types of sugars and different ways they are consumed, but today we address a concern that is being raised more often as modern nutritional science strives to find truth.
Refined sugar is an added nutrient found in most processed foods. Refined sugar is simply raw sugar put through a purification process to remove any impurities and colorings, also known as white sugar. On the molecular level, this type of sugar is called sucrose, and eating any amount of it spikes blood sugar levels immediately, which is life-threatening to those with diabetes.
Doctors performed a study on the association of high daily sugar intake with heart disease. The study concluded that those with a high daily intake of refined and processed sugars were more likely to contract heart disease. The American Heart Association advises keeping daily sugar intake at or below 20 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men.
Fructose is a sugar abundant in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Fructose is generally considered as safe to consume when found in its natural form because its effects are mitigated by fiber and other nutrients present in those foods. However, there is a form of fructose used in many processed foods and drinks called high fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is very unhealthy because it contains much more fructose that your body would ordinarily have to process. Fructose is digested in the liver, and during this process it is used to make glycerol, a molecule that later becomes fat. Consuming too much HFCS causes your organs to become fatty, which can contribute to their eventual failure.
Is Sugar Poisonous?
This is all sounds pretty terrifying, but does this mean that sugar is a poison? Not necessarily. Just like everything else in life, it depends on moderation. With sugars hidden in the most benign foods and drinks, it's difficult to keep our sugar intake at moderate, healthy levels. It's important to realize that while refined sugars and high fructose syrups are extremely unhealthy for us in large quantities consumed over long periods of time, the human body needs sugar to function properly. Modern nutritional science courses teach that moderated intake and finding natural sources of healthy sugars is the key to a healthy diet.
The Body's Fuel
Glucose is a simple sugar found in blood and is also known as blood sugar. Glucose is the main source of energy for the cells in our bodies. Our body's entire function is to break down the things we eat and drink into glucose to be used as fuel. Carbohydrates are especially easy to convert, becoming fuel for daily functions like walking, breathing, talking, and even thinking. Believe it or not, the largest consumer of this glucose is actually our brain.
Foods such as vegetables and whole grains are rich in complex carbohydrates and provide more than enough sugar for our bodies to convert into energy. The natural sugars in fruits and milk can also serve as a healthier alternative to eating processed refined sugars. There are even healthy alternative sugars available out there. Honey, agave nectar, raw sugar, and coconut palm sugar are some of the most popular sugar alternatives.
If you are concerned about your daily sugar intake, choose to drink water or unsweetened tea instead of soda, juice, and other sweet beverages. If you are going to consume unhealthy sugars, at least do it with food and not with drink — pairing sweet jam with whole grain toast, for example. Gulping down a bottle of sugary soda while eating a candy bar will not do your liver, pancreas, or blood sugar levels any favors. Be kind to your body. It's the only one you're ever going to have.