Sugar – another one of those nutrients we all enjoy but also try to avoid for health reasons. But should we? New York City sure seems to think so with their recently-implemented ban on sugar containing beverages that are greater than 16 ounces.
I find it kind of sad that some in our country’s government think we have such a lack of self-control they must limit our serving sizes, but, nonetheless, it will most likely cut back sugar intake, which is, indeed, needed for the average American.
If you were one of the few students paying attention in freshman year biology, you probably remember talking about why humans love sweet and salty tastes. It’s been hypothesized that we can’t stop ourselves from having sugar cravings. From an evolutionary standpoint, the taste of sweetness for our ancestors meant telling the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous plants. In turn, choosing sweet tasting foods aided in our species’ survival. So don’t feel so bad about that Ben & Jerry’s you wolfed down before bed. It’s natural.
Confusion arises because sugar is labeled inherently bad, but fruits are the logo of a healthy diet. Yet, the main macronutrient in fruits is sugar. No wonder the general population is so frustrated with nutritional guidelines. And I’m not even mentioning the new milk-hating crowd.
Now, let’s learn. Sugar can be divided into natural sugars, such as the sugars in milk and fruit, or it can be referred to as added sugar found in candy, soda, pop tarts and the like. Yes, there are other ways to break down sugar, such as those individuals attacking fructose or high-fructose corn syrup, both which seem to be hot topics right now, but for simplicities sake, this is a good starting point.
Added sugars are often referred to as “empty calories,” which means that they rarely are accompanied by essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. This is in contrast to the sugar found in fruit or milk.
So what’s the difference? Essentially, 50 grams of sugar found in a container of Dr. Pepper is equivalent to 50 grams of sugar in a banana – the difference lies in what else the food provides. This is the main reason why sugar cannot be labeled inherently bad, nor should any other nutrient; it needs context.
Here’s a suggestion – trying feeding your sweet tooth with fruit first. As I stated earlier, it’s natural to have sugar cravings, but it can just as easily be met with a bowl of strawberries as a big gulp from the gas station. Fruits will typically be lower in calories per serving and help meet micronutrient needs. Research has also shown that fruits have a strong satiety effect, so you’re less likely to overeat at other meals as well.
Last, don’t forget the golden rule of moderation. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional sugar cookie, just don’t have the entire package.