Sugar — we love it but too much or the wrong kinds certainly don’t love us. The average American consumes the equivalent of 22 tablespoons of it every day. Sugary drinks and soda are felt to be the biggest culprit in our American obesity epidemic.
Much of the sugar we consume is not so obvious, hidden in seemingly innocent foods. Even reading food labels can be deceptive as “sugar” has many other names — fructose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, and the infamous high fructose corn syrup. I took a look in my own kitchen to find a few examples: 1 tablespoon of ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, but who only eats a tablespoon? My husband is good for at least 5 tablespoons, so that’s 16 grams of sugar (64 calories); 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce has a whopping 13 grams of sugar (52 calories); and 1/2 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios has 9 grams (36 calories). For optimal health, a woman should get no more than 25 grams (100 calories) of sugar daily and a man no more than 37 grams (150 calories).
What is the problem with sugar? Simple sugars mentioned above, found in sweets, processed foods and alcohol all cause a rise in insulin levels. Now and again it is not a problem, but when our diets are chronically high in these sugars, elevated insulin levels cause release of many complex substances, including growth factors, which, as they sound, stimulate cells to divide and grow. The unbalanced chronic production of these factors also promotes inflammation. Inflammation and excess growth factors appear to be big factors in development of heart disease and even cancer.
A recent study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed people who consumed more than 25 percent of their calories as sugar were 3 times more likely to die of heart disease then those whose sugar consumption accounted for less than 10 percent of daily calories. If as little as 15 percent of calories were sugar (the equivalent of two cans of soda a day), there was a 20 percent higher risk of dying.
We do need sugars in our diets — they are vital for energy production and the function of each and every cell in our bodies. But we need to eat the right kind of sugars, those found in whole foods. Fruit contains sugar — but it also contains fiber and powerful antioxidants. A whole apple is way better than apple juice. Whole-grain breads sweetened with molasses or sprouted breads with no added sugars are a healthier choice. Instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners in your coffee, try agave nectar or a little real maple syrup — yes, they are the same calories as sugar, but they are sweeter so you need less. And every once in a while, a nice piece of dark chocolate is a healthy treat, high in antioxidants.
— Dr. Kelly Shanahan is the owner of Emerald Bay Center for Women’s Health. She is accepting new patients interested in optimizing their health, and can be reached at 530-542-4961.