Did you know research has found that consumption of added sugars has been implicated in increased risk of a variety of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity!? The average American consumes about 152 pounds (yes you read that right) of sugar each year! This equates to roughly 22 added teaspoons of sugar per day, with children consuming about 34 teaspoons each day. Yikes!
Natural Versus Refined Sugars
Sugar can be broken down into a few categories but here we’ll breakdown natural versus refined sugar. Natural sugars are found in things like fruit (fructose) and in dairy products (lactose). Refined sugar can come from sugar cane, sugar beets, or corn which are all processed to extract the actual sugar. Refined sugar has even been categorized as a non-food. This is because refined sugar costs more in nutritional value to digest, absorb and eliminate than it delivers- aka it has zero nutritional density. High-fructose corn syrup is one of the most common types of refined sugar and is found in a number of common foods including candy, soda, juice, salad dressings, and even yogurt. Make sure to check those nutrition labels!
Effects of Eating Refined Sugar
Have you ever noticed that you’re still hungry after you eat that candy bar or pack of sugary gummies? This is because your body digests refined sugars very quickly, which means you will still feel hungry. Because it is digested so rapidly your insulin levels and blood sugar sky rocket. This leads to the familiar “sugar crash” where you get a quick boost of energy then crash (feel more tired) once your blood sugar levels come back down. This sort of eating creates a vicious cycle of peaks of energy followed by exhausting crashes and hunger that lead you to reach for more sugar-filled foods.
Excessive sugar consumption can lead to increased inflammation and suppressed immune functioning. Chronic, low-grade inflammation has been found to be a key factor in the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and depression.
Try These Sugar Swaps!
If you’re looking to reduce your intake of sugar, try these sweet swaps instead! Remember to always check your nutritional facts and ingredients to avoid eating excess refined sugars.
Coconut Sugar - Raw coconut nectar, or coconut palm nectar, comes from the sap of the coconut blossom, which is further evaporated at low temperatures and produces a low-glycemic syrup. The sap can be further fermented to make coconut sugar, which is the dehydrated and crystallized version of coconut nectar. Coconut sugar is brown in color and has a delicious caramel flavor!
Raw Honey - Raw honey possesses many antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, as well as 22 essential amino acids, 27 minerals, 5,000 enzymes, B vitamins, polyphenols, flavonoids, and antioxidants. The process of heating honey destroys many of the valuable nutrients, therefore raw honey should not be heated above 95ºF (the temperature that one would normally find in the hive). Drizzle some raw honey on yogurt, oatmeal, or just grab a spoonful!
Agave - Agave is made from the extracted juices of the agave plant. The natural liquids from the plant are heated to evaporate the excess water and the remaining product is a concentrated, sweet nectar that we know as agave. Agave syrup has a low glycemic index which means it won’t lead to spikes in blood sugar. Because it is very concentrated, a little goes a long way! Agave can be a great substitute for baking, cooking, or even to sweeten your morning coffee!
By Brianna Diorio, M.S., FDN-P