Like most things in life, moderation is key.
How much sugar are you consuming a day? Sugar sneaks into our diets in surprising ways, and it’s not easy knowing whether an ingredient on a label is added sugar. Many of us are aware of our late-night ice cream habits or the amount of cake we eat at a celebration, but you would be surprised how many people are unaware of how much sugar is a part of their daily intake.
Before you can understand how much sugar you are consuming. It’s essential to recognize the different types of sugar. First, our bodies, especially our brains, need a type of sugar called glucose. However, this does not mean we need to consume more sugar to meet this need. Our bodies manufacture using protein, carbohydrates, and fats already in our diets. In other words, you don’t need to drink a soft drink to satisfy your brain’s needs.
When consuming sugar, there are two types in your food: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are in many foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Think about the sweet taste of an orange or sweet potato. But a benefit of eating foods with naturally occurring sugars is that they also have other dietary benefits. For example, oranges and sweet potatoes have different nutrients and dietary fibers that processed foods do not.
In contrast, added sugar is exactly as its name describes. Sugar is added to food rather than naturally occurring and doesn’t include any other dietary benefits. For example, ketchup, which might be considered “healthier” due to its simple ingredients, still adds sugar to the tomatoes. We often think of “bad sugar” as candy and sweets, but don’t forget to look for added sugars on ingredient labels. One trick is to look for words that end in -ose, like “fructose,” which is an added sugar. Harvard Health published a list of “sneaky” sugar names in their health newsletter to promote added sugar awareness:
According to the National Institute of Health, 15% of the calories in the average American diet come from added sugars. Can’t imagine what that looks like? Imagine eating 22 teaspoons of refined sugar! Considering your sugar intake is less about sugar being a “bad” ingredient and more about the lack of balance in the average American’s diet.
Want to get your balance back? Start by checking the ingredient lists of foods you usually consume that are not cakes and cookies. Apple sauce, pasta sauce, salad dressings, and even crackers sometimes hide added sugars. Try swapping them out with the same food that has better ingredients. Don’t discount processed food as something that “wouldn’t have sugar in it.” Also, be careful about choosing the “low-sugar” or “no-sugar” options that include artificial sweeteners instead. Research is unclear about the ways our bodies interact with artificial sugars. Some research suggests that artificial sweeteners may lead to overeating.
So, is sugar good or bad? At ALYKA, we’re encouraging you to ask a different question. Instead, ask yourself, “How much sugar am I consuming?” or “How can I eat a more balanced diet?” and take steps toward better dietary practices today.
Looking for more ways to eat healthily? Check out our blog or get in-app tips to help hold you accountable. Find us at the ALYKA Health blog.