I had typed up a long essay about glucose, fructose, and sucrose—what the difference between those are, how the body absorbs them differently and then I realized, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a mom and you don’t have time (and even if you did, you might not care) to read about the biochemistry of sugar. You want the facts and you want them fast, so here they are:
1. Sugar is not the devil. Our bodies need sugar, we use glucose for brain fuel and energy—without it we’d be bumps on a log. It’s the added sugar that you need to watch out for (more on that, soon)
2. Fruit is good for you and don’t let any diet theorists tell you otherwise. I’ve heard of grapes and bananas getting a bad rap because they’re “high in sugar”. Of course they’re high in sugar, they’re fruit, but in addition to that natural fructose that makes them taste so sweet, they offer antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and ultimately a dose of energy. So put down the donuts and pick up the grapes, they won’t hurt.
3. In addition to fruits having naturally occurring sugars, grains, some vegetables, and dairy products do as well. If you look at a plain Greek yogurt label, you may be surprised to see 5 to 9 grams of sugar in your precious breakfast staple. This is from lactose, and all dairy products have this sugar in them. By themselves, they’re harmless and also provide energy.
4. At the end of the day, certain sugars do lead to weight gain, and it’s usually if you have too much. Our liver processes fructose and when it reaches overload it takes the excess and it turns in to cholesterol and fat. This is where it’s important to consider the amount of added sugars in your diet.
5. Added sugars are everywhere: flavored yogurts, chocolate milk, cereals, granola bars, sweets and treats and so much more. Many labels today will say “added sugars” and list the grams. Look at those labels and in addition to paying attention to the grams of sugar, focus on the ingredients. Typically, processed items will have a form of sugar as the second or third ingredient.
6. Speaking of forms of sugar, it has so many sneaky names. High fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, barley malt syrup, sucrose, and more are just examples of the types of sugar that are added to your foods.
7. While honey may be a cleaner choice than some types of sugar, it ultimately is still an added sugar and will break down in your body the same way.
8. If sugar seems addictive, that’s because it is. Sugar has been shown to affect the neural pathways of the brain in the same ways as cocaine. Sugar gives us pleasure and the more we eat, the more we want it.
9. In addition to weight gain and tooth decay, some studies have found a link between sugar and immune suppression. Sugar will attack white blood cells (those are the ones that fight bacteria) right after consumption. With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas occurring in the winter (aka the primetime season of sickness), it’s no wonder so many kids are constantly sporting that runny nose.
10. Do you know how much sugar you should or shouldn’t be eating each day? The recommendation is no more than about 6 teaspoons per day of added sugars. If you think you’re not coming close, you should know the average American is getting 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Twenty two! There are only about 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, so hitting that 6 teaspoons (or 24 grams) can be done by breakfast if you’re choosing the wrong items. For your little ones, it’s easy to overrun them with added sugars. Fruit snacks, applesauce’s, graham crackers, and juice, just to name a few, are filled with added sugars. It’s time to pay attention and not for just the sake of obesity, but for mental health and wellness.
11. Finally, if you think resorting to artificial sweeteners is your cure all, think again. Artificial sweeteners are fake substances laced with toxic chemicals, so much so that’d I’d encourage you to pick up a real Coke before going for the diet. I could write another long essay on that, but again, you don’t have time. Just trust me and remember to stay balanced.