The correlation between sugar and inflammation is a trending topic in the media but its detrimental effects on our health are sometimes minimized. Sugar, refined or natural, is a simple carbohydrate that the human body breaks down into glucose and uses for energy. However, we are not dependent on glucose since we are able to obtain energy from protein and fat as well. For this reason, it is important to aim for nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates that also provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber to combat the negative effects of excessive carbohydrate intake.
Consuming products containing simple sugar, and refined carbohydrates, are also nutrient void, and lack antioxidants to combat the negative effects of sugar, which then leads to an increased production of reactive oxidative species (ROS), otherwise known as free radicals. Increased production of ROS causes oxidative stress and drives inflammation. In a low-grade state of chronic inflammation, such as that which most Americans live with daily, the risk of chronic illness and disease is increased considerably. It is critical to eat quality sources of carbohydrates since the production of ROS is highest after consumption of a high-carbohydrate meal. Simply put, those sources of carbohydrates that come from processed and packaged food and spike blood sugar levels cause more inflammation than complex carbohydrates from whole food sources.
Quality sources of carbohydrates include full-fat dairy products, properly prepared beans, and legumes, vegetables, fruit, and occasionally whole grains. Refined sugar, on the other hand, is not a quality source of carbohydrates as it is nutritionally-void, drives chronic inflammation, and wreaks havoc on our health. Refined ones, those that are not naturally found in food, are processed to extract the sugar depleting any preexisting vitamins and minerals. Refined sugars include, but are not limited to, agave, agave nectar, beets, brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, and dates. According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily allowance for added sugars or caloric sweeteners is less than 6 teaspoons (25g) per day for women and less than 9 teaspoons (37.5g) per day for men. Unsurprisingly, an individual following a Standard American Diet consumes an average of 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily, equaling 6 cups a week and roughly 152 pounds of a year. The excessive intake of carbohydrates in the form of refined sugar is single-handedly the biggest contributor to chronic illness and disease at this time. Refer to the tips below for ways to reduce your intake of refined sugar and start improving your health today!
Tips for Reducing your intake of Refined Sugars
- Make your favorite recipes with less sugar than they call for and gradually reduce the amount until the optimal taste for the least amount of added sugar is achieved.
- Swap refined options for unrefined alternatives like raw honey, blackstrap molasses, and real maple syrup.
- Replace instant oatmeal and sugar-laden cold cereals with plain full-flake or steel cut oats.
- Opt for plain yogurt and top it with fresh berries or a drizzle of honey for nutrient-dense sweetness.
- Opt for whole fruit over fruit juice whenever possible to obtain more fiber and less sugar to optimize blood sugar balance.
- Opt for water naturally flavored with lemon or lime over sweetened beverages like juice and soda.
- When selecting a food item, whether it be Greek yogurt or dill pickles, read the nutritional label and ingredients list and aim for the product lowest in added sugar.
Kristen Ueberschaer is a Registered Dietitian at Valley Schools and has a vested interest in the health and wellbeing of others. She hopes to see more people take charge of their health and question the information in the media before taking advice. Through her professional experience, she too has been overwhelmed by the vast amount of conflicting health information in the media and has made it her mission to better serve her community and their health needs by bringing light to nutrition misconceptions and steering her readers in the right direction. You can reach Kristen at: firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.