How sugar effects you
Of course we all know sugar leads to cavities (the bacteria in your mouth feed off the sugars and release acids, which then leads to tooth decay) but did you know sugar can also put us at risk for weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. Too much sugar, (empty calories) crowds out the healthier foods in your diet. If you consume a high-sugar diet regularly, this can cause you to be undernourished. This happens because sugar boosts dopamine levels in the brain. Increased levels gives you a pleasurable feeling and signals your body to consume more sugar. You can become undernourished when you fill up on empty calories and don't eat the foods that contain the plant-derived nutrients you need to thrive.
A high-sugar diet can raise your blood sugar and stimulate the liver to dump harmful fats (triglycerides) into the bloodstream. High blood sugar and triglycerides are known to raise your risk of heart disease. This is why the American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 100 calories/ 24 g (6 tsp) and men should shoot for less than 150 calories/ 36 g (9 tsp) of added sugar per day. To put this in perspective, ONE can of regular soda or energy drink contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar and will put you over your sugar allowance for the whole day!
According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, the average American consumes a frightening 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Sugar sweetened beverages are the biggest contributors of added sugar in the average American diet. While the biggest, they aren't the only sources to monitor. A large part of what our nation eats is processed foods and added sweeteners go by so many different names on food labels. It is a safe bet that if it's not a whole food and you didn't prepare the food, then it has sugar in it.
So where's the added sugar hiding?
You can find added sugar in cereals & granola, breads, yogurt, pasta sauces, soup, frozen dinners & pizzas, crackers, BBQ sauces & marinades, ketchup, pickles, some peanut butters and of course juice, canned fruits, pastries & other dessert items. Looking at this list you can see how hard it is to avoid added sugars when eating prepared foods.
There is a simple solution: eat a whole food plant-based diet. What does that mean? It's a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. And when you can't avoid eating prepared foods, look for the least amount of added sugars and refined grains. The nutrition facts label lists ingredients according to weight. So if sugar is near the top of the list or several types are listed in the ingredients, that product has a high sugar content. And if it is something sweet you crave, fruit or fruit-based dessert would at least contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients your body needs.
Also known as...sugar
To help you decipher food labels, here are some other names of sweeteners manufacturers use in prepared foods:
Brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, carbitol, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, Florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, lactose, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, raw sugar, sorbitol, sorghum, sucanat, sucanet, sucrose, xylitol and zylose.