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  • Sugar - The Good vs. the Bad

    Sugar is a carbohydrate. If it ends in “-ose”, then it is a sugar (for example, glucose or fructose), but there are different kinds of sugars.

    Sugar as we know it is usually created as a result of the processing of one of two types of plants: sugar beets or sugar cane. These plants are harvested, processed, and then refined to eventually resemble the white sugar we all know. 

    The problem however, is that the refinement of sugar removes all the beneficial nutrients, enzymes and other plant compounds that give naturally sweet foods their goodness. This sugar has absolutely no nutritional value.

    These bad sugars increase the risk of gaining weight and of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease since they contain empty calories. These empty calories increase the risk of weight gain.

    When sugar enters our bloodstream, our bodies do two things with it: either burn it for energy or store it as fat.

    When our pancreas detects a rush of sugar, it releases a hormone called insulin to deal with all of that excess sugar. Insulin helps regulate the level of sugar in our blood: the more sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin is released, which can cause a blood sugar spike. If too much sugar is consumed, which is often the case, our cells can become resistant to insulin. When that happens, sugar stays in our blood, which increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Extra sugar also causes an increase in triglycerides, which contributes to cardiovascular disease.

    So what about the good sugar? Natural forms of sugar exists in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, honey, and maple syrup and in balanced quantities, sweeteners cause no problems to most people. These naturally-occurring sugars come in foods that contain  vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fiber. Therefore, natural sugar contained in whole foods is good sugar and are needed to keep our energy levels in check.

    Indeed, our bodies’ primary source of energy is glucose, so it is vital to get at least 130 grams of total carbohydrates in our daily diet but the best way to do this is to get it from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans.

    So when you have the option, stick to fruits and vegetables, nuts and dates, and organic, local honey and maple syrup for your sugar intake. It is also important to educate yourself on the “hidden” sugars in your food. This starts with knowing how to read the labels on food.

    To find the sugar hidden in your everyday foods, read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients list carefully. Under "carbohydrates," you should find the word "sugars". Here, there is no differentiation between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars on the label. Ingredients are listed by weight, from the most to the least. If one or more of the first few ingredients on the list are forms of sugar, the item will likely be high in total sugars.

    Sugar can be listed with alternative names, so in addition to "sugar," watch for these ingredients: corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, cane juice, cane syrup and sucrose. As mentioned, any ingredient ending in “-ose” is likely a form of sugar.

    So the key is balance, and being educated and aware of the amount of sugar you consume. If you get your sugar mainly from natural sources and have the occasional treat too, your vitality levels will also increase and your body and mood will thank you for it.

    February 11, 2015

    Authored by Sahar Rouhani

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