Are You Letting Real Sugar Off The Hook?

Read the original article on Huff Post.

The Corn Refiners Association recently petitioned the FDA to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to “corn sugar.” High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is often blamed for the nation’s obesity epidemic because it’s cheaply processed into many “everyday” American food items. When some of us see “high fructose corn syrup” on a nutrition label, we shriek and put the item back on the shelf. We could debate the pros and cons of HFCS, but unfortunately the point that is lost in all of this is that all simple sugar and syrups, regardless of how they are named or packaged may cause adverse health conditions when consumed in excess.

Simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates) are digested quickly and are usually void of essential vitamins and minerals. The American Heart Association (AHA) was one of the first to issue formal guidelines on sugar intake. Last year, the AHA recommended no more than 100 calories per day, or about six teaspoons of sugar for women, and no more than 150 calories per day, or about nine teaspoons a day for men. They backed their recommendations with a scientific statement in the Circulation Journal which stated “excessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients.” The AHA did not go after any one type of sugar/syrup or manufacturer of sugar; its focus was instead on sugar consumption as a whole. There has been strong scientific data linking excess sugar above these limits and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes (Malik VS, et al “Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes” Diabetes Care 2010; 33(11): 2477-2483). Given the science, is it fair to say that perhaps we’re coming up with excuses to keep downing this stuff? Would we really feel better consuming a product based on the semantics on the nutritional label?

Most of us don’t notice the effect that sugar may have on our appetite either, we just know we’re never quite satisfied when our diet is filled with candy, cola, refined grains, etc., but we rarely ask why. Processing and preparation do play a factor but overall, simple sugar consumption causes a spike in blood sugar and insulin followed by a crash. This leaves us feeling even hungrier than we were before and more likely to continue eating until we can find something to make us full. It’s not far off to say that having a can of cola or a candy bar will not make you full, is it? If you’ve ever consumed something like this in place of lunch on a busy day, you can feel it, literally. Perhaps you have a doughnut every morning on the way to work yet still find you’re looking for the vending machines not long after you arrive. Whatever your sugar vice, the effects are for the most part the same and it leaves you wanting more. You give in to your hunger, you eat more calories than you can burn and before you know it, you’re up a notch on your belt buckle. Was the sugar to blame or more so your choice of what to eat?

Consider this: 10 licorice twists will cost you 400 calories and a ride on the blood sugar coaster for sure (by the way, insulin goes for the ride too). For the same amount of calories, you could have a lean turkey breast sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread loaded with spinach and spread with yellow mustard. You could even have paired your sandwich with a small apple and a serving of plain yogurt as well. The ups and downs from the licorice will cause such a crash that you’ll be searching for more food, lots of it, and soon. The sandwich on the other hand will provide you with satisfaction inducing protein in the form of the turkey and yogurt, high fiber bread and fruit to keep you fuller longer and anti-inflammatory turmeric rich yellow mustard. You’re sure to be full and satisfied after that meal and thus, you won’t need to scavenge for more empty calories. The sandwich sounds like a better deal to me.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to weigh all the facts and research and be your own judge. My advice would be to first determine if you are within the American Heart Association’s simple sugar guidelines by writing down your sugar grams for the day. Exclude those coming from dairy (lactose) or even fruit. Those sources of simple sugars do not seem to have the same effect as their more refined cousins. Instead, track the sugars in white bread, pasta or rice as well as honey, sugar, cane juice, brown rice syrup, turbinado sugar, fruit juice concentrate, sugar in the raw, high fructose corn syrup and even cane sugar.

Follow Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D. on

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