FAQ's on Sugar
There is so much confusing and conflicting data available about the health benefits or damages of sugar. Let's take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about sugar and try to answer them reasonably without the hype or fear mongering that is commonly associated with foods of questionable nutritional value. Taking the best information we have available and using our personal experience I believe we can make the best food decisions for ourselves -- and save the drama for another topic.
Is Sugar Addictive?Sugar taps into a powerful human preference for sweet taste, says Marcia Pelchat, PhD, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a basic research institute in Philadelphia. "We're born to like sugar," she says. Scientists aren't sure if people can become physically dependent on sugar, although some animal studies suggest that such a thing is possible, she says. "There are the same kinds of changes in brain dopamine, in these animals given intermittent access to sugar, as in drug addicts."
Are some type of sugar better than others?Celebrities and high-profile chefs have touted the benefits of replacing refined white sugar with purportedly more natural, healthier sugars, such as honey, maple syrup, or molasses. But, according to Rachel K. Johnson, RD, MPH, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association (AHA) there's no truth to these common misconceptions, "In terms of something being inherently better about those sweeteners as opposed to table sugar or sucrose -- no." The bottom line: All are simple sugars. "A calorie of sugar is a calorie of sugar, so whether you're getting it from white sugar or some other type of sweetener, you're still adding empty calories to your diet," Johnson says.
However, there may be one redeeming quality, she says. "Some of those sweeteners -- like maple syrup, molasses, honey -- may have a stronger taste, so you might be able to get the sweetness that you want with less of it, using less calories."
Does sugar cause weight gain?Several current studies suggest a relationship between sugar intake and weight gain. What the studies do not determine is if the sugar causes the weight gain or the extra calories sugary foods provide that cause the weight gain. Seems like a moot point to me. As people with obesity - in whatever stage we are in - we know what foods we ate that contributed to our personal weight gain. For me sweets and pasta were dietary staples at the height of my morbid obesity. What was on your menu when your disease was at its worst? I suspect we all blame our "sweet tooth" for a certain amount of weight gain. Studies on infants confirm that it is human nature to prefer sweets over foods like vegetables which are an acquired taste. According to registered dietician, Kathleen M. Zelman, "We love sweets because they not only taste good, but make us feel good. Consuming simple carbohydrates (like sweets) boosts the brain chemical serotonin, which can help improve mood. Stress reduces serotonin levels, which may help explain why some people reach for sweets when they're feeling stressed."
Simple Ways to Cut Sugar CaloriesAccording to Zelman, the bottom line is that if you want to control calories, you should limit added sugars of all kinds, including high-fructose corn syrup. She suggests five simple ways to cut back on sugar calories:
- Drink fewer sweetened soft drinks.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with naturally sweet fruits, fresh or canned in fruit juice.
- Buy only 100% fruit juice that is not sweetened.
- Instead of sweetened beverages, enjoy sparkling water with lime and/or a splash of fruit juice.
- Choose unsweetened, whole-grain cereals and cereal bar