For a long time now, sugar has been considered “bad” when talking about health and nutrition. We learn from an early age to avoid eating too much sugar due to the health risks that it can cause, but not all sugar is necessarily “bad” for you.
There are two types of sugar in the foods we eat, natural sugar and refined sugar. Natural sugar is just what it sounds like, sugar that occurs naturally in our foods, like fruit and dairy products. Refined sugar usually comes from sugar cane or sugar beets and is processed into the tiny, white crystals you add to your coffee and oatmeal in the morning.
Refined sugar is found in almost everything we consume from yogurt, to pasta sauce, to fruit juice, to lunchmeat. While refined sugar is probably the one your mama was warning you about, eating too much natural sugar can cause health problems as well.
The big problem with refined sugar is that it adds a large number of calories to your diet, without giving your body any nutrients. The natural sugar found in fruits and dairy products also adds calories to your diet, but you are getting a ton of important vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients too! Your body also processes these two sugars differently.
Refined sugar is digested and utilized quickly, which leads to a big spike in your blood sugar and can leave you feeling hungry even if you just ate. When we take in natural sugars, our bodies also have to breakdown and process the protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber found in that food.
Because this takes a lot longer, our blood sugar stays more stable and we are full for a longer period of time after eating. Once the sugars pass from our stomach to our intestines, it doesn’t matter where they come from in terms of how our body uses them.
How our body uses the sugar we eat all depends on how much sugar we already have in our blood stream. If we have a lot, then the new sugar is turned into fat or stored for future use in the liver as glycogen. If we don’t have a lot of sugar in our blood stream then our body goes to work delivering the sugar to our cells for energy right away.
Eating refined sugar has been linked to many health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and of course tooth decay. Whether you are eating natural or refined sugar, it is important to enjoy it in moderation. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, we should be limiting our total sugar intake to be 10% or less of our daily caloric intake.
This means that someone eating 2,000 calories/day should be eating 200 calories (or less) from sugar per day, which is equivalent to 50 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that refined sugar intake be kept to 100-150 calories from sugar per day, or 25-37.5 grams of sugar per day.
While there is no way to avoid sugar, we can be smart about how we choose to eat it!