What is Sugar?

Sugar is an ingredient found in most foods we eat.  It occurs naturally in many foods, like fruits, milk, vegetables, and whole grains.  Sugar can also be added to food and this is why we tend consume too much sugar each day.  It is recommended that women only consume 6 grams of added sugar per day and men 9 grams.  Unfortunately, the average person is consuming  three times (or more) of the recommended amount.


Is all sugar bad?

Sugars that occur naturally in food are not included in the daily recommended amount because this is the preferential way to get the sugar your body uses for energy.  When we start consuming processed food, soda, fruit drinks, candy, cakes, etc., we are eating added sugar.

We know that soda, candy and sweets have added sugar in them, but there is added sugar in many foods that you would not think it to be.  It is very important to read labels and to know what ingredients are added sugar.  The most common forms of added sugar are the following:

  • Corn syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Molasses
  • Any of the sugar molecules that end in -ose, like glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, etc.

If you are unsure if something had added sugar then read the label.  The label has the total grams of sugar listed which will include the amount of added sugar.


What effect does sugar have on your body?

It is very important that we take control and begin to limit the amount of added sugar we intake every day.  Too much sugar can have very serious effects on your health and wellness.

Diabetes:  It is widely known that prolonged excess sugar intake can lead to Type 2 Diabetes by increasing obesity and increasing insulin resistance.

Weight gain:  We all know that excess anything can cause weight gain.  This is still true with sugar.  It may even cause weight gain faster than expected due to the fact that a small food choice that contains a large amount of sugar will not leave you satisfied and leave you still hungry.  You will probably eat to satisfy the hunger and therefore increase the calories by even more.

Heart Health:  Excess sugar intake has been linked to increased risk for heart disease.  Sugar has been shown to increase artery clogging deposits and increasing blood pressure both of which increase your risk of heart disease.

Teeth:  Sugar is the main cause of tooth decay.  Sugar feeds certain bacteria that as they grow in your mouth they produce the acids that cause decay to your tooth enamel.

Joints:  Sugar increases inflammation in the body.  Increased inflammation increases joint discomfort.  This is especially important to those that already have arthritis or joint pain.  Decreasing your sugar intake may help decrease the amount of day to day pain you have.

Brain:  Although sugar may give you a momentary spike in energy it is followed by a very hard crash.  This can cause more severe consequences than just feeling fatigued after the crash.  Too much sugar has been linked to depression as well.


Decreasing sugar is not just for you

Not only is decreasing the amount of added sugars you eat important to your health, but it is extremely important to our children’s health as well.  All of our children benefit from the healthy choices we make by having happier healthier parents, but if we apply our healthy living to their lives they will be healthier and happier too.  You are also setting up their future health choices.  If we teach them young it is easier for them to make healthy choices as they get older.  This is especially important for our children with special needs as the effects of sugar has been negatively linked to many special needs.

In my case, children with Down Syndrome tend to carry excess weight.  Their metabolism is a little slower than most people so I try to limit the amount of processed foods Kiera eats daily.  I do not cook separate meals for my family, so she knows (like all my kids) if she does not eat what is on her plate she will be hungry when she goes to bed.  Kiera loves grapes, bananas, strawberries, and mandarin oranges so I keep these on hand for snacks.  I am not saying she never has other snacks, but I try to limit them whenever possible.


How can I curb my sugar cravings?

Now that we understand what sugar is and why it has a negative impact on our health and wellness how do we stop eating so much of it?

Food tracking: Start writing down everything you eat.  You can better analyze how much added sugar you are eating and where you can cut back if you can see what foods you eat daily as a whole.

Read labels: Knowing what you are eating is the best step to eating the right foods.  There is a lot of useful information on the labels of food.  If you see sugar (or any of the other terms for sugar) in the ingredient list then it has been added.  If those ingredients are in the first 4 ingredients then A LOT has been added.  Be conscious of what you are buying.

One thing at a time:  After you have found where you are getting a lot of added sugars in your diet you may be tempted to cut them all.  This may set you up to fail and binge on foods with too much sugar.  Try eliminating one thing at a time.  Removing one sugar filled food from your daily diet each week will give you a better chance of sticking with it than cutting out all added sugar cold turkey.

 **Sodas and fruit juices are so full of sugar.  Because they are liquid and tend not to give you the “full” feeling that food gives you, you can consume a lot of added sugar to your diet without any benefits.  Therefore, these need to be the first cut from your list. 

Sugar replacement:  Have fruits available to you for the times when you are having a sweet craving.  The natural occurring sugar in fruits will help curb those cravings.

Stay busy:  Many of us eat because we are bored, looking for comfort, or it is just a habit to eat when not doing anything.  If you find yourself eating sugary snacks when you are not really hungry then get up and do something to occupy your mind.