Nieszczur: The sour side of sugar

March 13, 2019

Sugar: Our society knows few things sweeter than this confectioner’s delight. It’s available almost anywhere we go: cotton candy at sporting events, elephant ears at the local fair and any restaurant dessert menu.  


Although you may be telling yourself that you tend to “be good” and avoid these sweet treats, there are many other hidden sugars in the everyday diet.


Excess sugar intake is the top contributor to overweight and obesity statuses. With more than 67 percent of American adults classified as overweight or obese, it may be a good time to analyze this not-so-sweet part of our diets.


The average American consumes 31 teaspoons of sugar per day and not just from desserts or guilty pleasures.


Even foods like pasta sauce, breads, cereals, salad dressings and crackers all contain added sugars.


“Healthy”-labeled foods do not escape the sugar rush either; they often contain as much sugar as desserts!


Just how much sugar should we be taking in per day? The FDA suggests no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day or about 200 calories worth.

Why is it so hard to track these pesky sugars in our foods? Currently, food labels do not display a percent daily value for sugar. We may turn our focus to carbohydrates or fats when deciding if we want to consume an item or not and overlook its sugar content.  


It is a hope that in the coming years, sugars will have a percent daily value listed on food labels based off of a suggested daily value of 12 teaspoons.


For reference, this would show a 20-ounce bottle of Coke with 130 percent of the daily suggested sugar intake!


Maybe this would make us think twice before we reach for a glass.


Is there such thing as a healthy sugar? Most naturally-occurring sugars (honey, maple syrup, agave) are better than processed (table, high-fructose corn syrup) sugars, but neither are “healthy” or necessary for the body’s functioning.


Since our bodies were not evolutionarily designed to need sugar, they are ill-equipped to store and process it, leading to diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity.


Additionally, sugars act on the brain’s reward center; cravings and withdrawal can occur, just like in response to drugs entering the body.


How do you combat sugar’s not-so-sweet touch in your diet?  


Pay attention to the teaspoons of sugar in your food.


Try to limit yourself to less than 12 teaspoons per day and watch out for hidden sugars in unsuspecting sources.  


Choose water over soda, snack on nuts over cookies and reach for a naturally sweet treat like fruit over a processed sweet dessert.  


After all, the sweetest treat is the gift of good health!


Alexis Nieszczur is a fifth-year student in the P3 PharmD program.


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