Contrary to popular thought, not all sugars are bad for you. Some sugars play a key role in a balanced diet. The trick is knowing which sources are good and which are bad.
How Many Sugars Are There?
First, let’s break down how your body gets sugar. Our diets include three types of carbohydrates. Fiber, starch, and sugar are each built out of sugar molecules and when your body digests them, it breaks them all down into sugar.
The sugars we are most familiar with are sucrose, fructose, and lactose. These only contain one or two molecules of sugar in their structure. Starches and fibers are complex carbohydrates. They can be made of several hundreds of sugar molecules.
When your body digests sugars and starches, they are processed into glucose. Glucose is the basic form of sugar that your body uses for energy. Sugars and simple starches are digested quickly which is why they can cause your glucose levels to increase quickly.
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Generally, the sugars that lead to a rapid increase then drop, also referred to as a “spike”, are thought of as “bad” sugars. The sources that don’t are generally considered “good” sugars.
However, how you consume them also determines whether they are “Bad” or “Good” sources.
Is It Natural or Was It Added?
Sources of simple sugars include fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and whole grains. When those sugars are naturally found in whole food, they are consumed along with a range of other nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals, proteins, and fiber.
The presence of fiber makes a huge impact. Fiber slows down your body’s absorption of sugar. This helps regulate its effect on blood sugar. The combined effect of all of these working together is to reduce a food’s ability to spike your blood glucose levels.
This is why, when sugars are added to foods after they’ve had all the regulating fiber and other nutrients removed first, there is nothing to slow down that sugar’s absorption into your bloodstream.
For this reason, standard dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10% of your total sugar intake. The rest should only come from natural sources gained from eating healthy fruits and veggies and whole grains.
What Can Happen If You Are Not Careful
We all know the most common side-effect of excessive bad sugar intake if weight gain. Other health issues that can arise include Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When you consume sugar, your pancreas releases insulin. Insulin allows sugar to move from your bloodstream into your cells. The more sugar consumed, the more insulin your body produces. Cells will sometimes build-up a tolerance to insulin. When this happens the sugars stay in your blood, increasing the possibility of Type 2 diabetes.
Did you know:
- Total: 84.1 million adults aged 18 years or older have prediabetes (33.9% of the adult US population)
- 65 years or older: 23.1 million adults aged 65 years or older have prediabetes
Excess sugars also cause increases in triglycerides. Triglycerides contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Recommended Dietary Consumption
Since your body’s primary energy source comes from glucose, it’s essential to get at least 130 grams of total carbohydrates in your daily diet. This should include 38 grams of fiber for men and 25 grams of fiber for women. For best health and results, try to get all of your carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
When using any added sugar, the American Heart Association recommends the following:
- Women: less than 6 teaspoons
- Men: less than 9 teaspoons.
To help put this into perspective here is a little table of conversion:
- 1 teaspoon = 4 grams
- U.S. Sugar packets = 2-4 grams
- 1 Sugar Packet = ½ -1 teaspoon
You should also be aware that some healthy-sounding sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, and molasses are considered added sugars.
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Overall, the best way to stay healthy and avoid the increase of health issues, limit your sugar intake and try to focus on a healthy diet. And, if you’re really craving something sweet, have an apple or a cup of berries.