By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom
Americans have a complex relationship with sugar. The USDA estimates that the average intake per person is 70-100 pounds of added sugars each year. Added sugars are those not naturally present in food. That means you may be eating almost two of those big four-pound bags of sugar every month!
Our biology is hard wired to perceive sweet tastes as pleasant and preferred. Before there were supermarkets, we foraged for food, and our taste buds helped us stay safe. Bitter foods told us to stay away; ripe fruits (nature’s sugar) tasted good and are full of nutrients. These foods also stimulate the same sweet taste buds. This does not mean we have a physical addiction to ADDED sugars because of a biological preference. It only means we enjoy a sweet taste and are drawn to that for positive nutrient intake for good health – inborn protection.
The added sugars we consume are a huge problem – either alone (sodas, sweetened drinks, candy) or combined with fat (ice cream, cakes, cookies, chocolate). While an apple has about 100 calories, a piece of apple pie (added sugars and fat) has close to 400 calories. And another scary fact: carbonated beverages (soda) provide nearly 22% of total added sugars to our diet!
And all sugars contain the same calories: about 15 calories per teaspoon. Our bodies see all sugars the same – even high fructose corn syrup. So there’s no health benefit to brown sugar, sugar in the raw, honey, molasses, agave, or others. It’s all converted to glucose (the simplest of sugars) as fuel.
Limit added sugars for better health, dental hygiene, and weight control. A taste test is not sufficient as added sugars can be hidden as “tasting good” and not especially sweet. Read labels on packaged foods, and aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per serving – that’s about two teaspoons. Any of the low-calorie sweeteners can be a good option, used in moderation with a dose of common sense. But remember that a high calorie meal is not balanced out with a diet soda!