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Sweet Smarts

MaryColorYikes, the holidays are here again and with it come the sweets – those addictive goodies that know no limits, when the balance of having a little for enjoyment is easily tipped into excess. My concern about the excess is the harm that sugar is doing to your body. Knowing the facts will, hopefully, help you manage your sweets this season and forevermore.

Sugar exists in nature as sugarcane, a very fibrous stalk belonging to the grass family. After harvesting, the sugarcane is processed and all the fiber is removed. What remains is sucrose, or table sugar. When ingested, sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructose.

While glucose provides energy to the tissues all over your body, fructose, on the other hand, heads straight to your liver, and only to your liver, for metabolism.

Why is this a problem?

For starters, after eating excessive amounts of sugar, fructose begins to wreak havoc in the liver by increasing:

  • Uric acid
  • Fatty acids
  • Cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol
  • Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Inflammation
  • …and by decreasing:
  • Nitrous oxide (relaxes your artery walls)
  • Insulin and leptin sensitivity

As a result, excessive amounts of fructose have been known to cause:

  • Gout
  • Hypertension
  • Arterial disease
  • Diabetes
  • Fatty liver
  • Inflammation
  • Obesity

Any other substance that causes this many health issues – like cigarettes and alcohol, for example – requires regulation and warning labels. Shouldn’t sugar?

Of course, fructose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. And since they still have their fiber intact, we prefer that you consume these whole foods since the fiber content will help decrease the rate of fructose into the liver.

Beware of choosing processed food that has fructose listed as a separate ingredient, whether as high fructose corn syrup, or as fructose alone. As I already pointed out, eating fruit is the only good way to eat fructose.

I know it’s impossible to eliminate sugar altogether, so I ask that you be mindful of your intake and limit it to not more than 15-25 grams of sugar a day from processed food. Get into the habit of reading Nutrition Facts Labels, which list the sugar in grams. Tally them for the day. Be wary of protein/cereal bars, dried fruit, yogurt, cakes, cookies, pastries, brandy, and liqueurs – they are the worst offenders.

A simple tip to remember: 4g of sugar = about 1 teaspoon. So, 15-25 grams of sugar is equivalent to … drum roll, please… 3.75 – 6.25 teaspoons of sugar!