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Counting calories can help you avoid weight gain. So too can counting carbohydrates. And if you count sodium, you can reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
Counting sugar can also help improve your health while aiding in weight loss. Here are five reasons everyone should monitor their sugar intake, as well as how to do it.
Counting the sugar in your food can be tedious. But it’s also incredibly important. Here’s why.
#1: Sugar Increases Heart Disease Risk
Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Every 3 minutes and 30 seconds, someone dies of a stroke. Both heart attack and stroke are a result of heart disease.
Research reveals that sugar-sweetened beverages and other refined carbs increase heart disease risk. Paying attention to how much you consume, then, can help reduce this risk.
#2: Sugar Reduces Gut Health
Gut health plays a critical role in our health overall. The healthier our gut, the better our brain functions. The gut microbiome has also been linked to several diseases. Sugar is one substance that can negatively impact gut health.
For instance, one study suggests that sugar’s effects on the gut can increase your risk of liver disease. In this way, counting sugar can potentially help keep you free from disease.
#3: Sugar Impacts What the Body Does with Fat
Studies also show that bacteria in the gut affect fat storage. So does insulin. If your insulin spikes from eating too much sugar, your body goes from burning fat to storing it. This can make it harder to lose weight. Do it often enough and it can even lead to weight gain.
Counting sugar helps prevent both of these scenarios. It keeps your sugar intake from being high enough to switch to fat-storage mode. Instead, it stays in fat-burning mode—making it easier to sustain a healthy weight.
#4: Sugar Can Be Addictive
This point is still debated. However, some researchers contend that sugar addiction is real, much like drug addiction. They point to how the two are similar, such as with cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal. They also both impact the brain’s neurochemistry while affecting behavior.
Counting sugar can help you keep your intake low enough to stay under the level of addiction. This means wrestling with fewer cravings. It also means not fighting withdrawal symptoms if you don’t get a certain amount.
#5: Sugar Is Found in Highly Processed Foods
Several highly processed food items are high in sugar. Donuts, cookies, and cakes are a few. These foods also tend to be high in fat and calories. This means that they can take you further from your fitness goals.
By watching your sugar, you also inadvertently lower your intake of processed food. This leaves more room in your diet for whole, nutrient-rich food sources. These are the foods that are better for your health.
Sugar is a nutrient often associated with diabetes. Although this association exists, it is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. The University of Rochester Medical Center reports that it is a myth that eating too much sugar leads to diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t make or use insulin correctly. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin. It has nothing to do with food or sugar consumption. Type 2 diabetes is when the body makes insulin but can’t use it as it should. This is referred to as insulin resistance.
Type 2 is often considered a lifestyle disease as people who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of developing it. But it can also be genetic. This makes sugar a potential contributing factor, but not necessarily a direct cause of this type of diabetes.
There are several different types of sugar.
Total sugar is the amount of naturally occurring sugars and any that may have been added. The two are combined to provide a food’s total sugar content. Food sources that contain sugar naturally include fruit and milk.
Added sugar is sugar that is put into the food during processing. Sugar might be added to help preserve the food or to improve taste. Some added sugars are easy to spot on a nutrition label, such as brown sugar or raw sugar. Others are known by less obvious names. Corn syrup, glucose, and maple syrup are all added sugars.
Sugar alcohol isn’t really a sugar, but a carb with a structure much like sugar. It also isn’t an alcohol. Sugar alcohol is used to sweeten foods. Xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol are all types of sugar alcohol.
Counting sugar requires learning how to read a nutrition facts label. The amount of sugar in a food is listed under “Total Carbohydrate,” right below “Dietary Fiber.”
The first bit of sugar data provided on the food label is “Total Sugars.” Again, this is natural sugar combined with added sugars. The second is added sugar only. Each is measured per gram.
It is the second amount that you are concerned with most. This is because foods with natural sugar generally provide some nutritional benefits. Therefore, they aren’t as problematic to your health as foods with added sugar.
If the label doesn’t tell you how many grams of added sugar it has, check out the ingredients list. Look for other names for sugar. Corn syrup, fructose, and dextrose are a few. Even though you won’t know exact amount, it’s a sign that the food does contain additional sugars.
Some calorie recording apps will break down sugar intake for you. You can also use a food journal. Record what you eat and the sugar the food contains. Also record the sugar in your drinks. Tally your intake at the end of the day to see if you are where you want to be.
Several agencies have different ways of determining the top limits of sugar you should consume per day. For instance, the AHA recommends that men limit their added sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons daily. This equates to roughly 150 calories. The added sugar limit for women is 6 teaspoons or 100 calories.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans sets the limit for added sugar at 10% of total calories per day. So, if you consume 2,000 calories daily, no more than 10% or 200 calories should be sugar.
If you have diabetes, your doctor can help you determine your appropriate sugar intake. They can also assist you with carbohydrate counting, which can further help you manage this disease.
If after counting sugar you realize that you consume above the recommended amount, here are some ways you can lower your intake:
Don’t add table sugar to your food and drink. Eat your oatmeal without table sugar. Also, don’t put table sugar in your coffee. This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to reduce the sugar in your diet.
Use a sugar substitute. You don’t have to give up the sweet taste of sugar to gain health benefits. Sugar substitutes allow you to sweeten your food and drink without hurting your health.
Cut down on sugary drinks. These types of drinks contribute the most sugar to the American diet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes soda, but fruit juice is also high in sugar.
Reduce your processed food intake. Natural food has no sugar added. So, the more natural food you eat, the lower your added sugar intake.
Watch your serving size. When counting sugar, it’s important to pay attention to serving size. Note how much sugar you consumed based on the number of servings you had.
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Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2022 Update. professional.heart.org. (2022). Retrieved 9 August 2022, from https://professional.heart.org/en/science-news/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2022-update.
Temple, N. (2018). Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion. Nutrients, 10(1), 39. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10010039
Pan, Y., & Zhang, X. (2021). Diet and gut microbiome in fatty liver and its associated liver cancer. Journal Of Gastroenterology And Hepatology, 37(1), 7-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgh.15713
Martin, A., Sun, E., Rogers, G., & Keating, D. (2019). The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Host Metabolism Through the Regulation of Gut Hormone Release. Frontiers In Physiology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00428
DiNicolantonio, J., O’Keefe, J., & Wilson, W. (2017). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 52(14), 910-913. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971
Myth Buster: Dishing the Details on Diabetes. URMC Newsroom. Retrieved 9 August 2022, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/publications/health-matters/myth-buster-dishing-the-details-on-diabetes.
Added Sugars. www.heart.org. (2021). Retrieved 9 August 2022, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
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