national sugar awareness week

Watch out for the sweet, white stuff

Sugar, C12H22O11: it’s that lovely sweet molecule that makes everything taste just a little better. But for some, it can make things a little worse. Sugar has been blamed for inflammation in diseases like arthritis and also for feeding cancer cells. Gastrointestinal upset may also be caused by sugar especially in people with Sucrose Intolerance, medically known as Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID). We know we need sugar to have the energy to get through the day, so let’s take a look to see how we can keep this treat from playing a trick on our health.

Sugar is naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, and grains so we need to make the distinction that added sugars are what most doctors and dietitians are talking about when they ask you to cut back on sugar. Added sugar can be found in almost everything these days. Look at the food label on many of your seasoning mixes, breads, cereals, and condiments and you’ll see sugar. The label does differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars now, so it is a little easier to detect where it might be coming from.

Milk from animals contains a sugar called lactose, and chocolate milk has additional sugar from sucrose. Fruits and vegetables contain different types of sugar like fructose and sucrose. The sugars from milk, fruits, and vegetables are necessary to provide us energy; and these sugars appear as “sugars” on the label, not “added sugars.”

Excess sugar can be a problem because what we don’t use, we store as energy for later in the form of fat. High sugar diets are associated with high triglycerides, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. CSID is a disease that affects the digestion of sucrose. Sucrose, like lactose, has to be broken down into smaller sugars to be used as energy, and people who suffer from CSID lack the enzyme needed to do this. The result is upset stomach, as well as fatigue, since the sugar cannot be used as energy.

It is important to know where your calories are coming from and try to eat the majority of your foods as close to their natural state as possible. Retraining the taste buds is probably the toughest part of cutting back on sugar. We’ve been spoiled with the invention of artificial sweeteners that make diet and no-sugar added products so much sweeter that we need even more real sugar to get the same flavor.

Most of us don’t realize how much added sugar we are consuming. The hopes are that once the new labels are on the packages, consumers will read them and make better choices. Sugar is a wonderful sweet treat and can fit into a healthy lifestyle if we just remember that it is just that – a treat.