Not many of us escape having a “sweet tooth”. Most people and even newborns are hardwired to find the sweet taste as the most pleasurable and satisfying of all tastes. Lactose, or “milk sugar”, enables babies to seek and prefer breast milk or formula. Sugar serves as a source of pleasure and quick energy, but unfortunately sugar has no other nutritional value.
The Power of Sugar
Scientifically and metabolically, sugar is a simple carbohydrate while starchy foods are complex carbohydrates composed of multiple glucose molecules plus valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber. Table sugar, also called sucrose, is one molecule of glucose plus one molecule of fructose. Digestion quickly breaks these apart. As glucose moves into the blood stream, is matched with insulin and carried to cells for energy. Fructose also found in fruit or honey takes a side trip to the liver where it is converted to glucose. For people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, simple and complex carbohydrates need close attention. Sugar alone does not cause diabetes.
Having a “Sweet Tooth”
If you have a “sweet tooth” and your friend doesn’t, it might be a matter of your genes and your individual ability to perceive taste. People who have a strong sweet taste perception may have genes that support a strong sweet preference. Age and exposure are preference factors, too. A person who preferred intense sweetness as a child may like less sweetened food as an adult. Someone who grew up drinking sugar-sweetened soda may continue to prefer that taste as an adult.
The Value of Sugar
Sugar makes food more appealing, especially processed food. It is estimated by various sources that Americans annually consume 60 to 170 pounds of sugar mostly as sugar added to processed foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and snacks. Added sugar also includes what we use in home cooking, added to coffee or sprinkled on cereal. To put sugar calories in perspective, a pound of sugar contains a 7,248 calories. One teaspoon of sugar (4 grams) is 16 calories. The American Heart Association conservatively recommends six teaspoons of sugar per day for women, nine for men. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that less than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugar. This means a 2,000 calorie diet would allow 50 grams (200 calories) of added sugar. For good health, it is prudent to recognize that a high sugar diet contributes to dental caries and weight gain leading to obesity causing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
There are multiple forms of sugar depending on processing and ultimate use as an ingredient. High fructose corn syrup frequently used in processed foods is the poster child for bad sugar, but in reality digestion breaks it into glucose and fructose just as with any natural sweetener like honey, molasses and agave nectar or “dry sugar” like ultrafine sugar, confectioner’s sugar and demerara cane sugar.
To rein in your “sweet tooth”, you might investigate your diet and seek the hidden sources of sugar including: agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup.
Name the habit. Change the habit.
Challenging your “sweet tooth” to reduce sugar in your diet means changing habits.
(1) Write down all the foods you and or you family typically eat. Identify the high sugar choices. Get your family involved in this activity so everyone is on board with changes. Naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk don’t count as added sugar.
(2) Identify times of day when you crave something sweet, such as after a meal or when feeling stressed. Can you distract yourself from the craving by rethinking your message to yourself or doing something distracting.
(3) Decide healthy foods, such eating more fruit and vegetables, are a priority before eating a sweet food with little nutritional value.
(4) If you add sugar to coffee or cereal, try it without sugar or use a sweetener.
(5) Read labels to find the sugar content. Look at the ingredient list.
(6) Cook from scratch so you have control over the amount of sugar.
Written by: Mimi Cunningham MA, RDN, CDCES
Mimi is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and diabetes care specialist helping people learn to manage their diabetes and achieve good health. She believes food definitely is good culinary medicine.
Our Video Resources
For insightful videos on better living: CLICK HERE.
For the companion video to this article: CLICK HERE.
For a complimentary video worth watching: CLICK HERE.
10 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You: CLICK HERE
How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body?: CLICK HERE
The Sweet Danger of Sugar: CLICK HERE.
Source: Harvard Health
Healthy Eating: CLICK HERE
Source: Smart Strategies for Successful Living