IS SUGAR TOXIC?
The research evidence on sugar’s contribution to health problems may be mixed, but there is no doubt that cutting added sugars from your diet often results in improvements in fasting insulin, fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and liver enzymes. While cutting added sugars is proven to yield many positive health benefits, it’s important to understand that sugar has a complicated relationship with the body.
Sugar is a natural ingredient that has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. Sugars are carbohydrates that provide energy to the body. The most common sugar in the body is glucose, which is needed for the brain, major organs, and muscles to properly function. Sugar or ‘added sugar’ includes: table sugar, sweeteners, honey and fruit juices, and is extracted, refined and added to food and drink products to improve taste. Added sugar is added during the production of food and generates empty calories. Added sugars have little nutritional value and eating more than the recommended amount of added sugar daily, can often lead to weight gain.
Overall sugar consumption in the United States is steadily increasing. In 2017/18, approximately 11.18 million metric tons of sugar were consumed in total in the United States alone– making sugar public health’s enemy (Statista). Governments are taxing sugar, schools are removing it from vending machines, and some experts are advising to completely remove it from our diets. However, it’s actually quite difficult to determine how sugar affects health, independent of a diet with a high caloric intake. Gram for gram, sugar is less than half the calories of fat and is an important energy source for bodily functions.
As we look toward the upcoming holiday season, it’s important to remember to not over-indulge in sweets. Managing sugar and maintaining a healthy diet provides balance that allows you to live a healthier and happier life. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance: no more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons).
An easy way to reduce added sugars in your diet is to choose foods that don’t have them, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Although foods like dairy and fruit have natural sugar, they often
have other nutrients our bodies need like protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Say no to sugar in beverages, or try to find options with less than 10g total sugar or less sugar, per serving. When considering a sugary snack, think HALT – Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired? Then try to act on those feelings in a more positive way, like calling a friend. Another tip to practice, especially when the Halloween candy comes out, is the Three Bite Rule – it’s scientifically proven that your first three bites of a food yield the most satisfying taste. So try three Hershey kisses instead of an entire candy bar.
Be careful not to demonize sugar by avoiding it completely as sugar is ultimately broken down and used as fuel for the body. It’s best to consume a variety of foods and a mixture of nutrients with calculated calorie intake that makes sense for your lifestyle. To learn more about how sugar is impacting your health, join Jennifer Flom, DO, internal medicine, Chestnut Hill Hospital, for a lecture at Center On the Hill, 8855 Germantown Avenue, on Thursday, October 18, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Free! Registration required. Call 215-753-2000.
Located in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and a member of Tower Health, Chestnut Hill Hospital is a 148-bed, community-based, university-affiliated, teaching hospital committed to excellent patient-centered care. Chestnut Hill Hospital provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient, diagnostic and treatment services for people in northwest Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County. With more than 300 board-certified physicians, Chestnut Hill Hospital’s specialties include minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, cardiology, gynecology, oncology, orthopedics, urology, family practice and internal medicine. Chestnut Hill Hospital is accredited by The Joint Commission and is affiliated with university-hospitals in Philadelphia for heart and stroke care and residency programs. For more information, visit www.towerhealth.org.