Recovery Messages & News

Sugar Overload

By Sue Newton, R.N., M.N.

These days when sugar is added to most processed food, it is hard to avoid the stuff. Considering that sugar is addictive and can be harmful to your health, it is wise to find out exactly how much you are consuming.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that we are consuming more than three times the roughly six-teaspoons-per-day max recommended by the American Heart Association. That’s roughly 300-plus extra calories from sugar each day!

Because sugar is in healthy fruits and vegetables like beets, corn, and potatoes, you are probably getting your daily recommended amount of sugar before you even bite into a piece of cake. That is not to say that you should cut back on produce, as it is an essential part of a healthy diet, but you need to be aware of how much sugar you are getting from processed foods, which make up “50 percent of the sugar we eat,” says Robert Lustig, M.D., a researcher on childhood obesity at the University of California at San Francisco. Flavored yogurt, tomato sauce, ketchup, bread, salad dressing, and crackers all have forms of sugar added during processing. Compounding the problem is that sugar goes by many aliases-sucrose, cane juice, simple syrup, fruit juice, and dozens more. Additionally, many of the foods that contain sugar, like bread and salad dressing, do not taste remotely sweet and, therefore, we may not be aware of how much sugar is hiding within them.

Sugar is generally made up of both fructose and glucose molecules. Fructose and glucose are metabolized differently by your body; when consumed in excess, fructose triggers your liver to convert it to fat, while glucose triggers a blood-sugar spike and the release of insulin, a fat-storing hormone, to counteract the spike. Eating too much sugar may stimulate your appetite rather than satisfy it, so after eating sugar, your body can actually crave more food.

Sugar Overload

Evidently, then, most of us could stand to cut back on the amount of sugar we consume, but it is certainly no easy task. Here are some  (fairly painless) ways that you could start:

Don’t sip sugar: Beverages are a big source of sugar in many diets, and most of the time they do not even fill us up or provide much nutritive value. Researchers speculate that the human body did not evolve to register liquid calories the same way it does solid foods. When you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle, avoiding sugary drinks can easily help you slash 500 calories a day from your diet.

Think au naturel: Curb cravings with fruit. Fruits contain sugar, but their other main ingredient, fiber, slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, blunting the dangerous high-low cycle.

You will still want to exercise portion control, though, especially with canned, dried, and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, which are concentrated sources of sugar and calories.

Sweat for sweets: Yes, working out is part of a healthy lifestyle and it can also help protect against the harmful effects of sugar. As well, fructose combined with other sugars can improve exercise performance by helping to boost energy.

Sap your cravings: If you are going to have sweeteners, you might as well choose ones that offer extra health perks, such as honey and maple syrup. There has long been buzz about honey’s antioxidant and antibacterial properties, and a group of researchers at the University of Rhode Island discovered that real maple syrup contains 54 antioxidants, 20 of which have known health benefits. But teaspoon for teaspoon, both honey and maple syrup have roughly the same number of calories as sugar, so be sure to drizzle them on sparingly.

Try some on cottage cheese or yogurt, or mix a bit into tea.

Take baby steps: Scale back slowly and you may find your sugar cravings diminishing. Use a little less sugar in your coffee each week until you can drink it black (or with a little low-fat milk or a pinch of cinnamon as your taste buds adjust over time).

We recognize that sugar is so abundant in our diet that curbing use can be challenging, particularly if you struggle with food issues and addiction. However, healthy recovery can involve incorporating the steps above and moderating or eliminating your intake of high-risk, or trigger foods, that lead you to consume more sugar or fat. Remember, the key is balance and finding health in all areas, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual.