Sugars are carbohydrates, and carbohydrates are sugars. That is, all carbohydrates are ultimately broken down by the body to yield sugars, which then serve as a source of energy in the form of calories. There are a number of different terms used to describe sugars and carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, refined sugar, complex carbohydrates, etc. Complex carbohydrates are also called starches. The distinction lies in the degree to which they must be metabolized in order to yield calories. Simple and refined sugars yield calories quickly with little metabolic breakdown, and complex carbohydrates yield calories more slowly through a more lengthy metabolic process.
Sugars and carbohydrates directly effect blood sugar levels, which then effects blood insulin levels. High levels of insulin have been linked to heart disease and stroke. Thus, dietary intake of sugar can have a direct impact on our risk for these serious medical problems.
Sugar intake also has an impact on the following:
- Our risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease and stroke, by its effect on insulin levels.
- Tooth decay: the more often we consume sugars, and the longer the time between eating sugars and brushing, the greater the risk of tooth decay and cavities.
- Hyperactivity and Mood Disorder: Diets high in sugar do not cause hyperactivity, but they may have a role in its severity. Sugar consumption also seems to influence mood swings in PMS, anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD, so much so that minimizing sugar intake is advised as part of the overall treatment plan for these conditions.
- Weight Control and Obesity: Sugar provides calories, a lot of calories, but little of nutritional value. As such, nutrients must be obtained from other sources, which also contain calories. This makes sugar a sitting duck in weight control, as minimizing sugar consumption can eliminate calories without sacrificing nutrition content.
Sugar substitutes: Sugar substitutes such as aspartame and sorbitol can provide suitable taste with no calories. However, the mere presence of a sugar substitute does not necessarily mean a low calorie food. Reading labels is still required to determine calorie content.
Where will I find sugars:
Read labels. Minimize consumption of anything which shows the following on the label, which will generally indicate that sugar has been added:
- sucrose, glucose, maltose, lactose, fructose, or corn syrup.
- sugars are also found in high amounts in the following foods: candies, cookies, cakes, doughnuts (most bakery goods), jellies, syrups.
So, what guidelines do I follow to reduce my sugar intake?
- Read labels. Look for the “sugar words.”
- Avoid/minimize prepared and processed foods.
- Avoid/minimize the foods listed above as being high in sugar
- Restrict calories from sugar as follows:
- for 1600 calories per day, allow 6 tsp of sugar.
- for 1800 calories per day, allow 12 tsp of sugar.
- for 2200 calories per day, allow 18 tsp of sugar.