From Dr. L. Lambert: Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you still need to be vigilant about the amount of sugar you consume every day. It’s not so much what you sprinkle on your morning cereal as what you eat when you’re noshing on processed foods. From sweetened beverages like fancy store-bought coffee to pasta sauces to breads — and of course, desserts — sugar is in lots of foods we eat.
Why You Need to Worry About Sugar
By A. Klemes, DO, FACE
Of all the things we eat, nothing perhaps does more harm than foods that are awash in sugar. Cakes, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages like gourmet coffee and sodas come to mind. But sugar is everywhere — in low-fat yogurt and barbecue sauces, in granola, protein bars and canned soup, in canned fruit, smoothies and even spaghetti sauce and ketchup.
Sugar is everywhere because food manufacturers know our bodies crave it. When we consume sweet foods, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It also releases opioids, which are associated with addiction. Of course, there are legitimate reasons food manufacturers add sugar: It gives foods flavor, texture and color; sugar preserves some foods; and it balances the acidity of some foods like tomatoes, among other things. And it makes sweet foods sweet.
How Much Sugar Is Okay?
The federal government recommends that Americans 2 years and older limit their sugar intake to less than 10 percent of daily calories. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s only 200 calories from added sugar — or roughly 12 teaspoons. Another way to put it: there are roughly 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, so 48 grams of sugar is the limit on a 2,000-calorie diet. A 20-oz soda has roughly 65 grams of added sugar. This extra sugar consumption is fueling record levels of obesity and the diseases that come with it: heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
Health Consequences of Too Much Sugar: More than 70 percent of Americans are overweight (me included!) or obese. The AHA estimates that the average American consumes more than 60 pounds of added sugar every year. The extra weight is driving an increase in preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea and even depression, among other conditions. In particular, sugar may interfere with leptin, a hormone the body produces to regulate hunger. Studies show that sugar may lead to leptin resistance—which can trigger obesity.
Sugar by another name: When you do buy processed food, pay close attention to food labels. Sugar masquerades under many different names, some of which you’re probably familiar with: corn syrup, sucrose and fructose. But there are at least 61 different ways manufacturers indicate sugar on a label. Here are some examples: Corn Syrup, Sucrose; Fructose; Honey; Fruit Juice; High Fructose Corn Syrup; Evaporated Cane Juice; Dextrin; Dextrose; Maltodextrin; Refiner’s Syrup; Sweet Sorghum; Molasses; Maltose; Glucose; Corn Sweetener; Beet Sugar; Barley Malt.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid all added sugar, but if you keep an eye on food labels and prepare more of your own food, you can hit recommended intake targets and eat a healthier diet.
When Dr. Lambert warned me that I was borderline diabetic, I stopped nibbling on dried fruits, chocolate covered almonds, and other deliciously addictive snacks.
Are you seriously avoiding extra sugar?
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