Sugar is a main component of the modern American diet. As such, it is one of the major factors for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Conversely, a low sugar diet can help to protect people from many of these health risks. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to identify which foods have sugar. Even when they can be identified, many people are so accustomed to a high level of daily sugar intake that making a change to this habit can seem all but impossible.
To make things even more complicated, some sugars are a necessary part of any healthy diet. Typically, this means taking in foods containing natural sugar and avoiding those that have refined sugar. This type of low sugar diet may help almost anyone lose weight and put them on the path to better health.
Different Types of Sugar
Daily sugar intake can be difficult to calculate because so much of the substance is hidden in common foods. However, when it is possible to identify sources of sugar, healthier food choices become easier to select. Being aware of the different types of sugar contributes a large part of that.
Sugar can be broken down into two major categories: natural and refined. Natural sugar is found in many healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. This type of sugar also is found in honey and maple syrup. Even milk has a healthy dose of natural sugar.
The other type of sugar is refined sugar. This also may be referred to as added sugar. It appears in food labels in nearly 100 different ways. High-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, rice syrup and barley malt are just a few examples.
While natural sugar is essential to good health, refined or added sugar has no nutritional value. It does not make foods healthier. Instead, it changes the flavor of the food and dramatically increases the caloric content.
What is Refined Sugar?
Anyone who eats processed foods is regularly consuming added sugar. Almost any prepackaged item at the grocery store contains at least one type of refined sugar. In fact, many of them include more than one type of added sugar. While this ingredient does add flavor to the food item, it also reduces the nutritional value by adding a substantial amount of empty calories. The body does the best it can to convert all of that excess sugar into energy, but if too much sugar is consumed, all of it cannot be converted. This means that the extra sugar must be stored somewhere.
Typically, the extra sugar is stored in the body as excess fat. This is why weight gain and a high sugar diet go together. Refined sugar is found in the following foods:
- Bread, rolls, and pastries
- Processed meats
- Pastas and sauces
- Salad dressing
- Sodas and juices
- Snack crackers
- Cakes, pies and other dessert items
It’s important to note that not all of these foods are considered “sweet” or called “desserts.” Added sugar is lurking in savory foods as well, an important fact to understand for anyone who wants to adopt a low sugar diet.
Why is Sugar Bad for You?
When foods contain added sugar, they are often considered to be unhealthy choices. Researchers have linked excessive sugar consumption to a variety of serious, and possibly life-threatening, illnesses. Eating a high sugar diet is a major risk factor for packing on the pounds. Add all of that sugar consumption to a largely sedentary lifestyle, and that individual is on the path to some nasty health problems.
People who are overweight are far more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Once called the sugar sickness, this disease results when the liver cannot keep up with converting sugar into energy because too much sugar is being consumed. Diabetes can be deadly, and Type 2 of the disease is highly preventable. A low sugar diet is one way to ward off this illness.
Obesity similarly causes problems with the cardiovascular system. People who consume too much sugar may be at risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart disease. A person’s daily sugar intake can make an enormous difference in their health and quality of life.
How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day is Recommended?
While doctors, nutritionists, and scientists recommend against consuming refined sugar, they also recognize that natural sugar is an important source of energy. Additionally, it is difficult to eliminate all sources of refined sugar from a typical diet, which is what makes it vital to recognize these sources and avoid them as much as possible.
People who follow the recommended daily sugar intake guidelines are less likely to be overweight. Moreover, they lessen their risk of developing many harmful diseases. The American Heart Association recommends that adult males take in no more than nine teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day. That translates to just 150 daily calories. Women are recommended to consume no more than six teaspoons or 20 grams of sugar every day, which is equivalent to 100 calories.
Adopt a Low Sugar Diet
Sticking to the recommended daily sugar intake guidelines is not an easy task. Nevertheless, anyone can follow a low sugar diet by keeping a few recommendations in mind. It is advisable to avoid processed foods as much as possible. This may mean preparing more meals at home, which undoubtedly requires greater time and effort. Still, this is worthwhile if following a low sugar diet leads to weight loss and fewer health complications.
Any healthy diet needs to include a solid emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. It is these items that contain the most natural, healthy sugars. Current guidelines suggest five servings every day of fresh produce. However, most people do not succeed at eating this many servings.
It makes sense to incorporate more fruits and vegetables gradually, especially for people who are not used to eating this way and may feel like they don’t like fruits and vegetables. Choosing a salad for lunch once per week and adding a piece of fruit as a snack every day are great places to start.
Eating a low sugar diet also includes reading food labels. Items containing high fructose corn syrup should be avoided whenever possible. Fortunately, many food manufacturers are now making products that rely less on sugar and other sweeteners. Instead of choosing white bread products, opt for whole grains and multi-grains as these items have more complex sugars that are healthier and less likely to cause health complications.
Make dessert an occasional treat rather than a regular indulgence. Cakes, cookies, pies, candy, and pastries are delicious, but anyone who eats them constantly will pay a high price. People who have made a daily habit of eating sweets may need to wean themselves slowly away from them so that their bodies have time to adjust to the new, healthier routine. With time and persistence, cravings for sugar will decrease while cravings for fresh, healthy foods will increase.
Be sure to check out one of our wellness classes or make an appointment with your Primary Care Physician for a referral to a Registered Dietitian. Your wellness is important to Meritage Medical Network. Click here for more information on our individual nutrition counseling.