The sugar situation is pretty confusing these days - is it a poison for all bodies or can it be enjoyed in sweet little amounts? Are all added sugars created equal or is there one that’s better for you? To understand what’s better for your body, it’s important to get right to the source: what is sugar, what does it do in the body and why might it be an issue for you?
What is sugar and how does the body use it?
Your body processes sugar in two simple forms: glucose and fructose. You can think of these as the building blocks of the sugars you see in everyday life which make up any carbohydrates we eat. Glucose is a simple sugar that your body likes and uses for quick energy. When glucose is consumed it triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone that acts as a key to “unlock” your body’s cells so that carbs can enter and be used as fuel. While this is happening, your brain recognizes that you’re metabolizing what you just ate and tells you you’re less hungry - thanks, brain!
What are added sugars and what can they do in the body?
Most added sugars - table sugar, cane sugar, maple sugar - are largely made of fructose which is metabolized by the liver. Your brain recognizes fructose differently than glucose. That “hey, you’re full!” message may get lost in translation and you’re likely to keep eating even though you’re taking in sizable amounts of calories. Aside from this spike in calories, too much added sugar (sugars removed from their original source and added back into food) can create a bit of disarray in other parts of the body. Added sugar is an acid-forming food (less favorable for digestive health), can suppress the immune system, and while it may elevate mood initially, when it’s gone...hello, crankiness!
Can I enjoy some added sugar?
Yes, you can likely enjoy some added sugar; The World Health Organization’s recommendation for daily added sugar intake is max six teaspoons. Choose better quality (closer to whole food form, non-GMO, no artificial ingredients) and spread those teaspoons out across nutrition pit stops.
Still, your sugar intake depends largely on your health status and goals. Are you diabetic? Fighting a cold or disease and trying to kick up your immune system? Working to lose weight or improve your digestion? Your recommended added sugar intake depends on you, so assess first.
Once you’ve figured out your own recommended sugar intake, follow these simple guidelines for how you can navigate sugars better.
Add your own: It’s much better to add your own so you can better manage the quantity and quality. Flavored yogurts and beverages will max out your daily sugar goals pretty quickly - so opt for unsweetened versions you can flavor yourself with fruit or a little added sugar such as honey.
Flavor: When picking your added sugar choice, considered the flavor of different ingredients - what will complement the other ingredients better? Various sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey or coconut sugar add their own taste and texture. Each varies in sweetness and flavor, so a little of one variety may go much further than a lot of another.
Quality: Like with any other ingredients we choose to put into our bodies, quality is important. Go for organic more often and avoid highly refined whenever possible.
Be wary of marketing myths! If a product is labeled “100% Natural Agave” that doesn’t mean it’s healthy - natural is a marketing term, and it’s not saying anything about your sweetener. It also doesn’t mean you can consume more than another sweetener.