To Your Health
January, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 01)
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Recognizing the sources of sugar in your diet can require some savvy label reading skills. Sugar can be listed on food packages in a variety of ways, including glucose, fructose, dextrose, corn syrup, sucrose, and cane sugar, to name a few.

As a consumer, it is important to recognize that all of these are types of sugar, and as a result all can cause negative health effects. A particular form of sugar used in processed foods, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), may be especially damaging. HFCS is one of the most commonly used sweeteners in the U.S., and is produced from corn starch via a series of enzymatic processes. Clinical research now shows that HFCS may present more health risks than regular cane sugar. Opponents of the use of HFCS claim that it promotes elevated triglycerides, weight gain, and the formation of AGEs. Studies have shown that soda beverages sweetened with HFCS are more likely to contain methylglyoxal derivatives, a form of AGE that has been linked to diabetic complications.

Watch Out for Sugar Substitutes

When looking to reduce dietary sugar intake, many of us turn to artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes as an alternative option. The most common non-nutritive artificial sweeteners used in our food supply today are aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K and sucralose. Since being introduced into the American diet, there have been handfuls of published studies linking the use of artificial sweeteners to conditions such as cancer and attention deficit disorder.

Oreo Cookies - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark According to the FDA, none of these claims has been backed extensively by clinical research, and the use of artificial sweeteners continues to be prevalent within our food supply. Recent research, however, has shown that regular use of artificial sweeteners may actually promote weight gain and interfere with appetite control mechanisms. Ingestion of artificial sweeteners still initiates an insulin response from the pancreas as a means of inducing carbohydrate metabolism. Since artificial sweeteners provide no carbohydrate value, insulin levels remain high, leading to hypoglycemia and increased hunger. This interference with appetite control mechanisms can lead to overconsumption of food at the next meal. The correlation between artificial sweeteners and increased food intake may indicate that their use is not supportive in weight management protocols.

Sugar has become as much of a part of American culture as apple pie. Unfortunately, the adverse health conditions associated with sugar intake have also become a prevalent component of our society. Reducing dietary sugar intake can be challenging, but the numerous associated health benefits make it well-worth the effort.

If your current diet is high in refined sugars, try taking small steps to regulate your intake. Cut down on soda drinking or dilute juices with water. You can also reduce your intake of processed foods and start making your own meals at home to limit your exposure to sugars that are incorporated as part of food processing. If you must use sugar, try sticking with more natural varieties, such as honey, agave, molasses, fruit, and cane sugar. Making these minor adjustments can have significant benefits on all aspects of your health and well-being.

Lots of Added Sugar ... and Little Else?

Considering that for a 2,000 calorie diet, the author's recommended sugar intake is approximately 30-50 grams per day (6-10 percent of food calories [kcals]), you might be surprised at how much sugar these classic brand-name foods contain. You might also be surprised at their relatively poor nutritional content (in some cases, the food is essentially sugar and little else) - but we'll leave that for another article.

Food Sugar (grams)
Starbucks mocha frappuccino blended coffee (16 oz.) 47 g
Coca Cola (12 oz.) 39 g
Krispy Kreme donut (chocolate iced glazed) 21 g
Hostess Twinkie (1) 19 g
Oreo cookies (3) 14 g
Red Bull energy drink (8.3 oz.) 27 g
Note: It is unknown whether artificial sweeteners are also included in any of the above food items.

Clair Whiteman, BSc, received her degree in nutrition and dietetics from Bastyr University in Washington state. She is currently the on-staff nutritionist for BioGenesis Nutraceuticals, a professional-grade supplement line.