Whether it is after a long meal or just to satisfy your sweet tooth, foods and beverages loaded with added sugars are easy to access and even easier to abuse.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) states that U.S. adults need to consume 10% or less of their daily caloric intake from added sugars. The average American ingests over 13% per day—at a rate of over 300 calories.
All of that sugar adds up and can increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Taking on a new diet or working to combat these illnesses cut out sugar entirely from the diet—leaving many without the simple joys of sweets.
However, not all sugar is necessarily bad.
By utilizing naturally occurring sugars, we can keep our risk of heart disease or diabetes low while still enjoying our desserts. In many ways, we can have our cake—and eat it, too.
Added Vs. Natural Sugars
Sugar is a ubiquitous term for a host of different substances and materials that make up our food when in reality, not all sugars are equal to each other.
The sugar you may already be most familiar with is added sugar. This is sugar (or a sugar-like substance) that has been added to a meal or beverage that wouldn’t otherwise have had it. These can come in many forms—from high fructose corn syrup to dextrose and fructose.
These are most commonly found in carbonated beverages, artificially created juices, icing, cereal brands, snacks, chocolate milk, and similar substances. Often, when people refer to the dangers of sugars, they are most likely referring to substances like these.
Natural sugars are quite different from added sugars. These sugars are often more complex and come in a smaller amounts, found mostly in fruits and vegetables in the wild. While consuming too much of any sugar is a bad thing, you may find that consuming natural sugars allows for a similar sweet taste without going overboard on the amount of sugar you consume in a day.
Is brown sugar better for your health than white sugar? In short, no. Both of these are refined sugars that are heavily processed sugars that could prove detrimental to your health
Recently, the CDC acknowledged the fundamental difference between added and natural sugars. You should be able to find the differentiation between these two types of food labels throughout the country.
Knowing this difference will help you keep track of your sugar intake and allow you to try out some healthier options. What’s equally as important to note, however, is the way your body uses (and needs) these sugars to grow and thrive.
Glucose and the Glycemic Index (GI)
We eat a variety of foods each day, and all of that fiber, protein, starch, and sugar all get dissolved down into the building blocks of our body. What can be dangerous about overconsumption of sugar is not that our body doesn’t need it, but rather that the opposite is true.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our bodies break down chemicals in our food into fatty acids, glucose, and ketones. Glucose is also the primary fuel for our brain, and keeping a healthy amount of glucose in the system is crucial to furthering growth and development.
Before you head out for brain sugar, there is a significant caveat. An unmanaged level of glucose in the system can be deadly, and an excess of glucose doesn’t mean improved the brain functionality.
The danger with added sugars, in particular, is that they take next to no time for the body to break down and enter the bloodstream—thus spiking blood sugar. This is the formative link between an overindulgence of sugar and the development of diabetes.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is particularly helpful when navigating the world of natural and added sugar. Food with a lower score on the index, like fruits and vegetables with natural sugars, will dissolve into the bloodstream slowly—and thus, keep blood sugar levels in check.
Naturally, this means that added sugars have the opposite effect—and thus, a higher GI score. If you’re aiming to eat right, consulting the Glycemic Index—diabetic or not—will help you determine whether or not a sweet food is right for you.
Those with diabetes may be similarly interested in sweets without blood spikes—so checking in with the GI is a great place to start. However, there’s more to be done about your glucose level than choosing oranges over orange soda.
Consult with your doctor if you fear that you have diabetes, have a genetic disposition to the disease, or have already been diagnosed. Each situation is different—so check in on how much added and natural sugar you are allowed to eat and plan accordingly.
Exposure to candies at the checkout counter or around town is often a stumbling block for those both on medication and off. So consider trying to get your prescriptions without stepping inside the pharmacy. Use a prescription delivery service or consider signing up with Medly Pharmacy to get your medications without the excess risk.
Whatever you’ve done concerning in your glucose levels, eating the right sweets is going to take a bit of work. However, if you plan right, desserts can remain a wonderful part of your life.
Consider making your own desserts at home—like creating homemade smoothies instead of heading out to the store for a smoothie with added sugars. Look into alternative sweeteners to cook with, like brown sugar, agave or honey, that will keep your natural sugar counts high and added sugar counts low.
Sugars can be helpful with added exercise as well. So if you enjoy a sugary drink, try enjoying a (non-carbonated) beverage during or directly after your workout, to quickly replenish the glucose in your body burned up during your set.
However you approach the situation of your sugar intake, don’t be reactive and cut all sugars out of your life. Not only will switching to natural sugars help you enjoy the taste with fewer drawbacks, but smart sugar choices will keep your risk low and work with your body.
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