Many people have been mistakenly changing a healthy diet for ultra-processed foods in search for the “perfect claims”. With so much information about nutrition online, people are often mislead with what they read and get to false conclusions such as that fat will give you a heart attack, carbs will make you fat, and sugar is going to kill you.
Instead of worrying about what we can’t eat we should strive for having a healthy and balanced diet: always aim for variety, quality ingredients, and portion control. Eating well makes us feel well and that is the ultimate goal of any diet program out there and we are here to show you that sugar is also part of a nutritious diet.
First, What Exactly Is Sugar?
According to The Sugar Association, “(…) sugar is the simple carbohydrate that we know and love that is produced naturally in all plants, including fruits, vegetables and even nuts.” Sucrose, its chemical name, is produced by plants through the photosynthesis process when sunlight energy is used to make sucrose from carbon dioxide and water. It’s composed by two molecules: glucose and fructose, which also make up all forms of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy because of its glucose levels, which is the fuel for your brain, organs and muscles to function and engage in everyday activities. Think of it this way: sugar is a natural compound found in nature to fuel and empower you to perform your best!
Adding Sugar to Food
Besides making food we love more delicious, sugar also has other functional properties that people take advantage of when cooking. For example, your favorite jam recipe has sugar not only to make it sweet and tasty, but also to prevent spoilage without adding other chemicals. For this reason, it is very important to read labels – many of the products we buy have added sugar even if they don’t taste sweet.
Since most foods contain natural sugar, there is no need to include processed food with added sugar to your diet. If doing so, try to follow the American Heat’s Association recommendation: no more than 9 teaspoons (36g or 150 calories) for men and 6 teaspoons (25g or 100 calories) for women per day. Watch out for foods such as sports & energy drinks, soda, juice & fruit drinks, granola bars, cereal, yogurts, and highly processed snack foods.
Does Sugar Make You Fat?
As we mentioned before, sugar is necessary for your body to function well. Overall, what makes us fat is an excessive caloric intake, genetics, and a low physical activity level. Obesity has gone up as sugar intake has gone down, which indicates that it a high calorie diets are the main cause of weight gain.
The US Government 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines gives us some practical recommendations for healthy eating and empowering people to make healthy shifts:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan: Eating healthy is a lifestyle, so find a balance to maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount: Switching the high calorie snacks for nutrient dense snacks is a good place to start.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake: Read your product labels to make sure they fit your dietary needs.
Other Side Effects of Added Sugar
Consuming added sugar foods lead to increased blood sugar levels. Prolonged elevated sugar levels can promote insulin resistance, thus telling your body you need to store energy either as fat (leading to weight gain) or glycogen.
According to Healthline, “Sugar affects appetite-regulating hormones and reward centers in your brain, which may increase the desire for highly palatable foods and cause you to overeat.” So, you can actually feel hungrier by consuming excess added sugar!
Since sugar fuels every cell in your brain, it sees it as reward and makes you keep you wanting more and more. The more you eat sugary foods, the more you will crave them. This is why a balanced diet is more than just cutting calories: it is a lifestyle around healthy habits to have you always in control of your desires and emotions.
Making Healthier Choices
Being mindful of what we eat is a task to be accomplished step-by-step. Small changes in food choices lead to long-term rewards to our health and wellness. Here are some ideas for how to start an enduring relationship of self-love: