With so many conflicting advice about sugar, you might wonder about the truth behind your favorite sweet snacks. Is sugar really bad for you? If so, how bad is it? As with most elements of the modern diet, sugar consumed in moderation poses little threat to an otherwise healthy, active person. The occasional piece of birthday cake or celebratory cocktail won’t cause significant long-term damage. However, consistent consumption of added sugars, which are found in everything from store-bought bread to low-fat yogurt, can seriously affect your health.
All Sugars Look Alike
Despite the prevailing myth that natural added sweetener is better than something like high-fructose corn syrup, all added sugars essentially look the same on a molecular level. Your liver, which processes sugar, cannot tell the difference between a soda and an apple – to a point. Sugar gets broken down into two components after you eat it: fructose and glucose. For the most part, every source of added sugar, natural or chemically produced, has about the same ratio of fructose to glucose. Your liver can process these sugars easily unless you’ve overloaded the system with excessive consumption. Once your liver gets overworked, it starts to turn stored fructose into fat, which causes a host of problems over time.
Exception to the Rule
The key here is added sugars, which are sugars that aren’t found naturally in the foods you eat. Packaged foods, such as ketchup, boxed meals and bakery items, contain higher amounts of added sweeteners than other foods. Even foods labeled with “natural” sweeteners can be problematic in high doses. You might see the following types of sugar on the label:
- Agave nectar
- Evaporated cane juice
- Beet sugar
- Molasses or honey
Sugar takes on many names, but they all act the same once converted by your liver. Added sources of sugar, including “natural” sugars, offer no nutritional benefit. While your body can’t tell the difference between a candy bar and a banana, there are other processes going on that make fruit the exception to the rule.
Fruits typically come packed with a bevy of nutritional benefits, such as fiber, potassium, necessary vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. It’s almost impossible to consume too much fructose from fruit because the fiber prevents you from overeating. The same can’t be said of added sugar in processed foods. Without the buffer of nutritional components, foods with added sugar will not satisfy your appetite, and you’ll continue to crave and eat low-quality foods. High-sugar diets have been linked with obesity, heart disease and diabetes, among other problems.
How Much is Too Much?
Your body needs sugar for energy, but it doesn’t need a plate full of cookies. It’s recommended that men consume no more than about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and women should limit added sugar to about 10 teaspoons per day. That might sound like a lot, but consider the fact that a single can of soda contains nearly 10 teaspoons of added sugar alone. Be smart with your sugar choices. It’s okay to splurge on occasion, but a diet full of added sugar is a recipe for disaster.