The media has done a rather thorough job of painting carbohydrates and sugar as evil villains set out to destroy your body and health. The truth, however, is not quite so simple… or dramatic. Carbohydrates have plenty of essential functions in our body (which I will go into more in a later post), but having too much can also cause problems.
Simple carbohydrates, which are often used as added sugar, are digested and absorbed very quickly, which can cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar. In response, your body releases large amounts of insulin which can cause your blood sugar to then drop below normal levels and send you into a “sugar crash” – leading to lethargy and hunger (1). Excessive intake of simple sugars can also lead to elevated levels of triglycerides (2), a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is best to limit the amount of added sugars in your diet.
Does this mean that foods that contain added sugar can’t be healthy? Absolutely not! There are plenty of nutrient dense foods that contain added sugar, you just have to think about the amount of added sugar and the nutritional quality of the other ingredients in the product.
Take my Blueberry Crumble for instance. It provides antioxidants from the blueberries, fiber from the oats, and healthy fats, vitamins, and trace minerals from the pecans. There is also only 1 tsp of honey for 6 servings. You just have to think of the overall nutritional value of each product because food is so much more than just carbs, protein, or fat. For example, things such as sugar sweetened beverages (sodas, pre-sweetened tea or coffee drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc) actually comprise over 40% of the added sugar consumption in the US while providing very little other nutrients (3), so these are examples of things that it is best to try to limit.
Many healthy, nutrient dense foods also naturally contain sugar. Milk, for example, contains a sugar called lactose, but it is also a great source of protein, vitamin D, and calcium. Fruit tends to be high in a carbohydrate called fructose, but it also contains plenty of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Starchy vegetables are broken down into molecules of glucose during digestion while providing many other nutrients (for example, sweet potatoes provide a lot of beta carotene and vitamin C). The list goes on and on…
So what does it really come down to? It’s about limiting the amount of added sugars in your diet while keeping the overall nutritional quality of food in mind.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for added sugars to be hidden on food labels because there are so many different types and names for sugar that you might not instantly recognize. Hopefully this guide will help you break down the secret names of added sugars so that you can make more informed decisions at the grocery store:
Scientific Terms for Sugar
If it ends in “ose,” it’s probably a sugar:
A lot of “whole foods” based recipes will use these ingredients because they sound healthier (and some do have small amounts of additional nutrients), but when it comes down to it, they are still sugar:
Cane sugar or cane juice
Other names for sugar:
High fructose corn syrup
Malt sugar or malt syrup
Some Simple Ways to Cut Back on the Added Sugar:
Make your own salad dressing rather than buying a commercial version – that’s right… even salad dressings can contain a lot of added sugar! (If you’re at a restaurant, you can also ask for the dressing on the side so that you can be in control of how much you put on your salad)
Add fresh fruit to your yogurt rather than buying flavored yogurt or ones with fruit already added (they often contain sugary syrups to keep the fruit tasting sweet)
Grab a sparkling water instead of a soda
Cut back on the amount of sweetener the recipe calls for – I have found that when I am making a recipe that calls for sugar, it is usually just as good if I use half the amount
Sugar crash effects and how to fix them. Sanford Health News. Published December 19, 2019. Accessed July 7, 2021. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/healthy-living/sugar-crash-effects/
Triglycerides & Heart Health: Lowering Levels, Guidelines & Foods to Avoid. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed July 7, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17583-triglycerides--heart-health
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Accessed July 7, 2021. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials