Myth Busting Monday: All Sugar Is Bad
*This article is not intended for someone with Diabetes.
Currently, there is so much information in the media about sugar-free diets. As a result, “sugar-free” diets are becoming more popular and trendy. Simply stated, you can be assured that...YOU DO NOT NEED TO AVOID ALL SUGARS!
Added Sugar vs. Natural Sugar
When you look at the nutrition label of a candy bar or an apple, both contain sugar. But there is an important difference between the kinds of sugars in these two different food types.
Candy bars, soda, fruit snacks, many breakfast cereals, ice cream, sweet sauces, and a lot of processed or packaged foods have what we call “added sugars“. This means that refined sugar is added to the product to make it taste better.
Alternatively, “natural sugars“, come from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and some dairy products. Natural sugars are not metabolized in your bodies the same as added sugar. Natural sugars found in whole foods (like fruits and vegetables) contain fiber, which helps slow down your body’s absorption of natural sugars. Fruits and vegetables are also naturally low in calories and contain lots of vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants that all are nutritionally beneficial to your body. So, it doesn’t really make sense to cut out nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables from your diet when they naturally contain fiber, are low in calories, and high in vitamins & minerals. What makes more sense is to limit processed foods (like cookies, cake, sugary drinks, and other processed foods) which tend to be higher in empty calories, saturated fat, added sugar, and/or salt.
So…if I Ever Eat Added Sugar Again will I be “Unhealthy”? NO!!!
Added sugar, in and of itself is not something you need to completely avoid, but, it is something that we want to limit and eat in moderation. Eating a diet that is regularly high in excess added sugar can increase your risk of certain chronic diseases (i.e. Type II Diabetes Mellitus, heart disease, and obesity, to name a few). More simply put, if you are regularly eating large amounts of added sugars then you are placing your health at risk unnecessarily, increasing the risk of chronic disease. I would suggest working on limiting your ‘added sugar’ intake. If you don’t eat highly processed foods regularly then you are probably doing just fine.
In summary, enjoying a piece of cake or candy bar every once in a while isn’t likely to affect your longterm health and nutrition status. However, if you are eating high processed foods regularly, that will likely lead to negative health consequences in the future.
The current recommendations from qualified nutrition sources (USDA and Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion) recommend that you limit added sugars in your diet to about 10% of your daily total caloric intake. This does not mean you have to rigidly follow this guideline, because, lets face it, sometimes we go to a birthday party and want to eat a slice of cake. But, this information can help give you an idea of what guidelines are recommended for you.
Should I stress about monitoring my added sugars intake?
For most of us, no. Sugar is not out to get us and you don’t need to stress about it, but you can be informed about your ‘added sugar’ intake by learning to read nutrition labels and making smart food choices most of the time.
Here are some tips for limiting your added sugar intake without manually tracking them…
1. Look at the ingredients list on your food labels. The most common sources of added sugars are: cane sugar, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, crystal solids, honey, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup. Limit consuming products that contain these ingredients near the beginning of the ingredients list.
2. Become aware of your needs. I don’t track calories or sugar regularly. But, having an idea of how much sugar you should be getting can help you make better choices at the grocery store. So, to give you an idea, someone who needs about 2,000 calories a day should try and limit their added sugar intake to 50g per day. This shows you there is room for some added sugars in a healthy eating pattern. It’s all about balance and moderation. As you look at different food products, use this number to give you an idea of whether you want this to be a “regular” food item or an “every-once-in-a-while” food item.
Starting in 2018, food labels will be required to include the total grams of sugar, and the total grams of added sugars in a product. This will be a much simpler and clearer way for consumers to become aware of added sugar content in foods. (See picture below)
Original food labels only included total sugar content which lumps the amount of natural sugars and added sugars into one number. This was confusing because in order to make informed decisions about food products we are especially interested in knowing the added sugar content, not just the total amount of sugar. Remember most people aren’t going to worry about natural sugar intake*, but we want to limit our added sugar intake. ***If you have diabetes you do need to monitor all sugar intake, see an RDN for more information.
Why Should I eat Fruits and Vegetables If They Have Sugar In Them?
Remember, fruits and vegetables gives us fiber, vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals, and antioxidants for very few calories. We call fruits and vegetables “nutrient dense” foods because you get a lot of nutrients for not very many calories. This is a great thing! We can eat lots of fruits and vegetables, get a ton of nutritional benefits, and we don’t have to consume a lot of calories doing it. The fiber in fruits and vegetables also makes us feel full longer, because it takes longer to digest fibers in your digestive system (especially compared to processed foods – like a candy bar.)
The Take-Away Message
1) Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry about natural sugar content in fruits and vegetables because it is nutritionally not considered the same as added sugars.
2) Low-Fat Dairy products (that contain no-to-very low added sugars) can also be a good food source in your diet and contain natural sugars.
3) Limit added sugars to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This is about 50g of added sugars to someone on a 2,000 calorie diet.
4) Don’t become obsessed or restrictive, but become aware of how much added sugar you are eating in your diet regularly and see if there are areas you can improve in. Learn how to read food labels to help you make smart, informed decisions.
5) Focus on your overall nutrition – don’t obsess over what you eat everyday. If you are generally making food choices that are rich in nutrients and low in added sugars and saturated fats, then you are likely doing just fine! Enjoy the occasional treat without feeling bad, guilty, unhealthy, etc. A piece of cake, candy bar, (or whatever else you like) is definitely fine every once in a while! You don’t need to stress about the amount of sugar or calories in food when you are only enjoying a treat every once in a while.
Want to learn more about added sugars? I’ve referenced some of my favorite articles below and recommend them to you for your consideration.