Health researchers have been warning us that sugar contains nutrition-less "empty" calories.
But the latest research suggests that sugar is something more sinister: It's actually a poison that can do more than just make us fat.
A University of California study published in May in the Journal of Physiology found that rats fed sugar instead of water weakened their memory, causing them to forget their way out of a maze.
Scientists have also documented the fact that increased sugar intake can lower HDL, the kind of cholesterol thought to protect the heart, while it raises triglycerides, a blood fat linked to heart disease.
Last month, a study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that patients with high blood sugar (but who were not diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes) were more likely to develop infections after orthopedic surgery.
Amid these revelations, there's one thing we know for sure: It's best to keep sugar consumption to a minimum.
As someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes since childhood, I have spent most of my life sugar-conscious. (With this condition, the pancreas does not manufacture insulin and therefore the body cannot metabolize carbohydrates).
Here's how I keep sugar intake minimal:
Avoid flavoured, sweetened
You probably know by now that yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that can help your digestive health. But many flavoured yogurts are loaded with added sugar. I tend to stick with plain, Greek-style yogurt that contains some fat and a fair bit of protein. Adding my own fruit and/or sweetener of choice allows me to control the amount of sugar in it. As well, the fat tends to slow down the absorption of the yogurt's carbohydrates. But for me, taste is also important. Plain yogurt with your own fruits always tastes fresher than yogurt with fruit and sugar already added.
Look for sugar in all of its forms.
Sugar can be lurking in your foods without you even knowing it. Before you eat a packaged food, scan the sugar content on the nutrition facts label. (Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. But keep in mind that a food's nutrition facts can also include sugar that naturally occurs in the food). Another way to spot the sugar in your packaged foods is to scan the ingredient list. Honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, fructose, glucose, lactose, dextrose, brown rice syrup, molasses, liquid invert sugar and corn syrup are all forms of sugar. Don't forget they each have just about the same effect on your blood-sugar levels.
Avoid fruit juices.
Most of the time, I do not drink fruit juices unless I have low blood sugar due to my injected insulin working overtime. Even unsweetened juices often have the same or more sugar than an equal volume of regular soda pop and it always hits your bloodstream quickly. Yes, you can argue that juice contains the vitamins and minerals found in fruit. But you are better off taking your fruit whole so you can get a dose of fibre that naturally keeps you fuller longer and also slows down the absorption of the naturally occurring sugar in fruit to keep your blood-sugar levels more stable.
Reduce the sugar content in your baked goods.
Cutting back the sugar by one-third in your next batch of cookies or your next homemade cake can do your body good and often, you won't even know it's missing. In most recipes, reducing this amount of sugar will not affect the texture of your final product.
Know what's in your ketchup.
If you're only using a little dab on the burger that you eat a couple of times a year, than you can look at this condiment as a rare sugary treat. But if you're dipping into ketchup at virtually every meal, you should know one tablespoon of ketchup contains four grams of sugar. If you're consuming a lot of the stuff, the sugar content can really add up quickly. The good news is ketchup contains lycopene, an antioxidant phytochemical that's found in cooked tomatoes. But you really shouldn't be relying on this sugary sauce for every meal. Other condiments high in sugar: relish, mint jelly, sweet chili sauces, barbecue sauce, jam and jelly.
Understand that your granola bar is not really a health food.
According to market researchers NPD Group, the average Canadian ate 55 snack bars (granola bars, cereal bars, etc) in 2010. While some do contains ingredients like rolled oats and added fibre, they are highly processed and highly sweetened -- often with items like marshmallows, chocolate chips and straight sugar.
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