Sugar. In this post I am going to talk about a very problematic topic in the health and fitness world and share my thoughts on this carbohydrate.
I would like to say upfront, before diving into this post, that all of the information I will be providing and everything I say is purely my personal opinion. I am not here to tell people how they should or shouldn’t eat. I’m just sharing the information I know based on my personal research and knowledge, everyone will have different opinions and that’s totally okay!
What is sugar?
Something that seems like it should be a simple question is really not. Sugar is not just the white table sugar that people put in their coffee and baked goods. It’s so much more than that, with so many different names that essentially mean the same thing.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, which is one of the three main macronutrients we consume, along with fats and protein.
Although there are so many different kinds of sugars out there they are all broken down into the same molecule in our bodies. Glucose.
What are the different kinds of sugar?
Now that is somewhat of a loaded question lol. White, brown, coconut, icing sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses. The “oses” and the “ides”. And we can’t forget about fruit.
The easiest way to categorize sugar is in two categories; added sugar and simple sugar. Added sugar is just that, all of the added sugars that are not naturally existing in certain foods. Things like brown sugar, honey, or fructose are added sugars. Simple sugar is the natural sugar that does naturally exist within foods like fruits, whole grains, and veggies too.
Mono/ di/ polysaccharides
Let’s take a look at the kinds of sugar from a biological stand point for a minute. These refer to the size of the molecules of different sugars. Disaccharides are simply two monosaccharides linked together, and polysaccharides are many linked together. Here is an example of each.
Monosaccharide: Glucose (simplest form)
Disaccharide: Sucrose (table sugar)
Polysaccharide: starch (carbohydrates)
Like I mentioned before, no matter what kind of sugar we consume, or how large the molecule is, they will all end up breaking down to glucose in our bloodstream. Now enough with all that science talk.
Sugar is in everything, and added sugars are hiding everywhere. Take a look at the ingredients list on any sort of packaged snack. Although many of them may not have sugar listed as an ingredient, many of them have added sugars under a different name that are virtually all the same thing.
Examples: Corn syrup, cane juice/ syrup, gluco-malt, agave, anything ending in “ose” such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, galactose, etc etc.
Is sugar good or bad?
Is it good? Is it bad? Will it lead to cancer, diabetes, or obesity… The list of concern are never ending. I believe sugar is like everything else. We should consume it in moderation. Too much of anything isn’t “good for you”, and sugar is one we should be aware of since it is in pretty much everything we eat.
I’m not here to demonize sugar, and scare people away from it, however I think it’s good to be aware of where and how we consume sugar. Coffee for example. The delicious cup of joy many of us enjoy in the morning to start the day off on the right foot. (Coffee is one of the reasons I am a morning person lol.) If you are adding 2 teaspoons of sugar into your coffee every morning that will tack on a lot of added sugar in your diet overtime. Let’s say you add two to three small teaspoons of sugar to your cup of coffee everyday 365 days a year. That adds up to the equivalency of 7-10 pounds of added sugar over one year. Yikes.
That being said, I’m also not here to tell you to stop eating fruit. That would just be wrong. Because if you look at it from the perspective that all sugar is bad, well then I guess we would just give up all foods. Bananas for example. A medium size banana contains around 14 grams of sugar, which is give or take the same amount as one tablespoon of table sugar. This is where the whole conversation on food quality comes in. The difference between the two, is that bananas are a natural source of sugar, that provides many other nutrients, while table sugar is refined, and heavily processed.
It’s like comparing an avocado to a Big Mac. Big Macs have on average 28g of fat, and so does a medium size avocado. Which one do you think is the higher quality food?
How much sugar should you consume?
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I talk about this, but the answer remains the same. There’s no one exact number that you should hit each and everyday. If you look this question up on the internet, the common number I have seen is 4 tablespoons, which converts to around 51 grams of added sugar per day. This isn’t counting natural sugars from fruits and veggies. That being said, my personal approach towards sugar consumption, is trying to get as much of my sugar needs from natural sources as possible.
I like to look at it this way – I would rather eat a whole cup of strawberries than add 1/2 a tablespoon of sugar to my coffee. This is a good example of having some awarness towards where and how we consume sugar. Saving the added sugars for occasional use, and the natural sugars as our main source.
Do you need sugar?
In a nut shell, yes. Yes we need sugar, and we all need different amounts based on our bodies and lifestyles. Sugar is our bodies main source of energy, being way more readily available than fats and protein. All food is fuel, but (carbohydrates aka sugar) are in particular. To sum up, do not fear natural sugar! Don’t fear added sugar either, simply be aware of what and how much you are putting into your body.
How to eat less added sugar
There are so many ways to be eating less added sugar, and here are a few tips.
- Eat as little processed foods as possible. Pretty much all processed foods have added sugars in them for different reasons. One being because it makes the product taste better of course. But it also helps with preservation once they have been packaged and ready to be sold. Most of the time, food doesn’t naturally stay good forever, hence added sugar and other preservatives.
- Add less sugar than a recipe calls for. So many baked goods and other recipes call for way more sugar than necessary. My Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is a great example of a delicious, sweet dessert or snack that has a little added sugar, just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- I also like to use fruit as natural sweeteners for lots of things. My Avocado Date brownies for example, they have no added sugar, just the natural sweetness from the dates.
- Last but not least, it’s the little changes that lead to big differences. Don’t cut sugar out completely. Try making small swaps in your everyday life. Maybe don’t add sugar to your coffee every morning, Add water or milk to your smoothies instead of juice, premake your breakfast for the whole week at once so you aren’t rushed in the morning and grabbing cereal half of the time.
All this stuff is easier said than done of course, but focusing on small changes one step at a time will lead to good habits and greater changes in the long run!
Sugar will kill you. Totally kidding of course. Rather sugar is an essential part of our food life that has always been and will always be present.
Try to do the best you can to get as much sugar as you can from natural sources. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. And keep the added sugars to a minimum, enjoying on occasion.
So have that ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Have a nice big piece of cake on your birthday. Or simply have a cookie if you really want one. Don’t fear natural sugar or added sugar. Consume it in moderation. There’s no point in cutting them out completely. After all, food isn’t just about being strictly perfect all the time. There is much more to it.
On the other side of the spectrum, eat your veggies, make delicious fruit smoothies, have a nice sandwich on your favourite loaf of whole-grain bread. Fuel your body, because let’s face it, it’s the only body you will ever have. Eat the foods you enjoy, and appreciate all foods for what they are.
Last but not least, do not get caught up in everything the media has to say about sugar. As the reason for all the controversy is because everyone is different! There are hundreds of articles on the subject of sugar and they will each be different. There’s no one right answer. Find what works for you and roll with it.