The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar




From ketchup to peanut butter, sugar can be found in even the most unexpected of ingredients. Over the last few decades, added sugars have been a leading contributor to many chronic health conditions and until recently its health risks have been vastly underreported.


Carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and grains contain a natural form of sugar. They provide us with fiber and minerals and when broken down can serve as a great source of sustained energy.


What We Knew Then. For over four decades, health officials recommended a low-fat diet to help limit the lasting effects of obesity and heart disease. Sure, food manufactures took notice and lowered fat content in foods, but replaced it with something far worse… sugar. Manufacturers added sugar (or artificial sweetener) to foods and beverages to sell their product by boosting flavor, adding texture, and increasing shelf life, which has led to dangerously higher rates of many chronic health conditions such as:


  • Widespread inflammation

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Non-alcoholic liver disease

  • Kidney disease

  • Immune system suppression

  • Dementia

  • Accelerated aging

  • Mineral depletion


What We Know Now. Although consuming small amounts of sugar, preferably natural sugar, is okay, cutting back on foods that contain added sugar is highly recommended. Here are some tips on reducing sugar intake:


  • Focus on whole foods. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where you will find fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Another great resource is taking regular trips to your local farmers market or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, as both provide fresh, seasonal produce.

  • Cut out liquid sugar. Soda, juice, energy drinks, flavored water, and the latest fad in coffee concoctions are often loaded with added sugars that go straight to the bloodstream, causing not only a major sugar overload, but also a significant consumption of empty calories.

  • Read ingredient labels. If you are consuming anything pre-packaged, take the time to read the ingredient label. If the nutrition information lists “added sugars” underneath the line for “total sugars,” nix it from your regular diet. This goes for anything from cookies, chips, and ice cream to dried fruit, sauces, and condiments. Tip: Avoid added sugars ending in “ose” (like sucrose) and sugar’s other aliases like high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey, corn sweetener, and maple syrup.


The Bottom Line. Reducing your added sugar intake is a great decision for a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, studies show that the average American takes in about 88 grams of sugar a day, equaling about 66 pounds of sugar per year, whereas the recommended daily intake* for men is 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) and for women is 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons). All this sugar we are consuming as a nation has caused and increase in metabolic health issues like insulin resistance (check out my Insulin Resistance: A Silent Epidemic blog here), diabetes, and obesity.


So, while removing adding sugars from your diet isn’t always easy, the benefits and reduced risk of chronic health conditions are well worth it!


*Here’s an easy, at-a-glance table help you stay on a healthy daily sugar-intake track:



Meghan Punda, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner and functional nutritionist with a focus on women’s health. With a passion for identifying and treating the root cause of health issues, Meghan works one-on-one with her clients to develop personalized dietary and wellness plans to fit each patient’s lifestyle and ultimately reach their full wellness potential.


References:

The Sweet Danger of Sugar, Harvard Health Publishing, published by Health.harvard.edu. January 6, 2022.

How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body?, by Locke Hughes, medically reviewed by