When it comes to health, sugar has a bittersweet reputation. It naturally occurs in foods that contain carbohydrates, such as grains, dairy, and fruits and vegetables. Most plant foods are packed full of essential minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, but it's still vital to watch your macronutrients while on the keto diet. After all, not all sugar is created equal.
If you're new to the keto diet, you're likely learning all about this high fat, low carb diet and what it entails. On this healthy diet, you eat fewer carbohydrates and a higher proportion of fat. The good news is that by sticking to a low carb diet, you will minimize the intake of sugar and starches. It's nice that you can still consume foods that taste good while losing weight, which The Body Reboot book goes into.
Keep in mind that no matter what type of sugars make up the carbs you eat, what matters is the net amount of carbs you consume daily. Still, it's important to understand the sweet dangers of sugar and how it wreaks havoc on your body.
Let's first discuss if sugar is addictive and whether that's one of the reasons it's so hard to stop eating sugary foods.
A coworker with an unshakable candy bar habit might sigh that she's utterly addicted to sweets. Can someone truly become physically dependent on sugar?
Sugar taps into a powerful human preference for sweet taste, says Marcia Pelchat, PhD, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a basic research institute in Philadelphia. “We're born to like sugar,” she says.
It's not entirely accurate if we're addicted to sugar, but WebMD goes onto say that it's very likely:
But nowadays, is the coworker's constant hankering for sugar merely a strong liking or is it a true addiction, with physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms?
“The jury's still out,” Pelchat says. Scientists aren't sure if people can become physically dependent on sugar, although some animal studies suggest that such a thing is possible, she says. “There are the same kinds of changes in brain dopamine, in these animals given intermittent access to sugar, as in drug addicts.”
So even if we aren't addicted to sugar that doesn't mean it's easy to resist. In fact, because sugar is super tasty and isn't good for us makes it all the more challenging to say no to (come on, we all know that we want what we can't have). And even though natural sugar is in a lot of healthy foods, that doesn't mean it's necessarily good for us:
However, problems occur when you consume too much added sugar — that is, sugar that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor or extend shelf life.
In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.
The result: we consume way too much added sugar. Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the National Cancer Institute. That's equal to 384 calories.
“Excess sugar's impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that may surprise many men is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Mayo Clinic provides discusses further as to why sugar isn't good for us below.
Increased triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the bloodstream and fat tissue. Eating an excessive amount of added sugar can increase triglyceride levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease.
Tooth decay. All forms of sugar promote tooth decay by allowing bacteria to multiply and grow. The more often and longer you snack on foods and beverages with either natural sugar or added sugar, the more likely you are to develop cavities, especially if you don't practice good oral hygiene.
Plus, fill up on sugar, and you'll have poor nutrition, which is a bad sign you're going to have significant health conditions down the road. It can also cause all sorts of problems from having a lack of energy to not feeling your best at work or anywhere, for that matter.
Poor nutrition. If you fill up on sugar-laden foods, you may skimp on nutritious foods and miss out on important nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Regular soda plays an especially big role. It's easy to fill up on sweetened soft drinks and skip low-fat milk and even water — giving you lots of extra sugar and calories and no other nutritional value.
It's true that consuming too much sugar can impact our health in more ways than one. Not to mention it can lead to diabetes and other significant health conditions as we discussed above. Diabetes, for example, usually happens when a person becomes obese. Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, a writer on healthline, understands how sugar can lead to weight gain and goes on to explain how that takes place:
Rates of obesity are rising worldwide and added sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, is thought to be one of the main culprits.
Sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, juices and sweet teas are loaded with fructose, a type of simple sugar.
Consuming fructose increases your hunger and desire for food more than glucose, the main type of sugar found in starchy foods.
Additionally, excessive fructose consumption may cause resistance to leptin, an important hormone that regulates hunger and tells your body to stop eating.
In other words, sugary beverages don’t curb your hunger, making it easy to quickly consume a high number of liquid calories. This can lead to weight gain.
Research has consistently shown that people who drink sugary beverages, such as soda and juice, weigh more than people who don’t.
Also, drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to an increased amount of visceral fat, a kind of deep belly fat associated with conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
It's no wonder so many people are obese when you read about what researchers discovered about sugar, according to Nutrition Facts:
Even researchers paid by the likes of The Coca-Cola Company acknowledge sugar is empty calories without essential micronutrients. Concern has been raised, though, that sugar calories may be worst than just empty. Mounting evidence suggests that, in large enough amounts, added fructose in the form of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup may trigger processes that can lead to liver toxicity and other chronic diseases.
And wait until you read this…
In 1776, each American consumed about 4 pounds of sugar annually. That had risen to 20 pounds by 1850 and 120 pounds by 1994. Today, we may be closer to ingesting 160 pounds of sugar every year, half of which may be fructose, taking up about 10 percent of our diet.
Remember, if you're on the keto diet it's the daily net carbs (which should be around 25) you consume are what matter. Here's a quick explanation from Ketovale on how to follow that:
Net Carbs = Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols.
This formula is perfectly fine for most people. If sugar alcohol doesn’t affect you, yes you can subtract the whole amount. It is fine.
However, sugar alcohols are still a form of carbohydrate. Some of them might still affect the blood sugar levels for a few people (4, 5).
If you are on the ketogenic diet and you want to play it safe, you should count half of the sugar alcohol amount as carbohydrate. So the formula for calculating net carbohydrates will be:
Lastly, you may be curious about why sugar is added to food in the first place, besides making food taste a lot better! Let's see what the Canadian Sugar Institute has to say about that:
Sugar has many roles in foods. Some of these include:
Sugar acts like a natural preservative for jams and jellies by absorbing extra moisture to prevent bacterial growth;
When exposed to heat, the browning reaction of sugar adds flavour and colour to bread crust and cookies;
Sugar is used to keep baked goods moist and can delay staleness;
Sugar feeds yeast in the fermentation that is part of bread-making;
Sugar contributes to the light and fluffy texture of an angel food cake; and
Sugar is responsible for the smoothness of frozen dairy products such as ice cream.
When food is made without sugar, other ingredients are added to achieve similar functions of texture, flavour, or colour. Often, sugar is replaced with starches, artificial sweeteners, or food additives that either have the amount of Calories (e.g. starches) or require additional labelling on packages (e.g. food additives).
In conclusion, by limiting the number of carbs (and thus sugar) you eat daily, you can get rid of more calories without sacrificing nutrition. Cutting back on carbohydrates and eating a diet that's high in fat can help you achieve your health and weight loss goals.
At the time of writing this post, we're currently giving away free copies of the Body Reboot book! It's our mission to increase awareness, help people lose weight, and get healthy! If you help us cover the cost of shipping, we’ll send a copy to your door FREE. Head to this page to see if there are any copies left.
Sources: Harvard Health Publishing, healthline, WebMD, Nutrition Facts, Ketovale, Mayo Clinic, Canadian Sugar Institute
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