If you've been tracking what's new in the world of health, you're probably aware sugar is the new “S” word. Sugar has been linked to many degenerative diseases, and reducing your exposure to the sweet stuff may offer significant positive effects, such as balanced energy, decreased body fat, prevention or moderation of disease, anti-aging activity, and a bolstered immune response.
While these benefits are certainly legitimate, not all sugar is equal in terms of how it effects your body. The difference between a downing a tablespoon of the bleached cane sugar and munching on fresh apple is significant, and sugar grams alone don't tell the whole story. So, if you're looking to curtail your consumption, here are some points to remember.
There are different types of sugar. Your body turns all sugars into glucose, which is the form of sugar it can readily use for energy. But sugar enters the body in many different forms, such as fructose, sucrose, and lactose. These forms of sugar each have positive and negative attributes: for example, fructose can aggravate gut health, but does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly, making it superb for individuals who are watching the gylcemic index of foods. Glucose raises blood sugar levels very fast, but it's also the easiest sugar to digest, so it's exceptional for any kind of physical endeavor. To discern the best forms of sugar for you, it's important to take your own personal health and activity level into consideration.
The source is important. To say that eating a banana is like eating 3 teaspoons of sugar is a misleading assessment. Eating 3 teaspoons of sugar offers just that – pure sugar for the body, and literally nothing else. On the other hand, a banana has fiber (which slows down the digestion of sugar), potassium, and additional vitamins and trace minerals. Enjoying sugar as part of a nutritious, holistic package is not only an energizing way to eat, but a natural one as well.
Added sugars aren't always bad. The USDA recently amended nutrition labels to include the term “added sugars,” with the intent of clearing up some sugar confusion. Added sugars are essentially any form of sugar introduced into a product that was not naturally-occurring in the whole food ingredients. While this is certainly helpful to quickly assess the nutrient density of a product in general, the added sugars column does not discriminate between empty added sugars like cane sugar, and more holistic varieties like coconut sugarand maple sugar. The latter options (which belong to a class of “better choice sweeteners” including molasses and honey), contain trace minerals and electrolytes, and are far less refined ... meaning they are far easier for the body to digest and truly use.
Sweeteners are not the same as sugars. Stevia, monk fruit, sugar alcohols like erythritol, and even artificial sweeteners like aspartame, contain no sugars and are not digested like sugar (though artificial sweeteners have their own set of health detriments and should most certainly be avoided). These natural sweeteners are excellent alternatives for those those who want to reduce sugar consumption without sacrificing taste.
The most important factors in approaching the subject of sugar are to reduce added sugars when possible, lean on natural sources of sugar for energy, and pay close attention to personal lifestyle choices and health goals. Despite what rumors and trends may indicate, eating healthy forms (and amounts) of sugar can actually help you thrive by fueling your body the way it was naturally intended.