Sugar: you probably know aspects of it like what it taste like, whether it’s good or bad for you and what is a good source of it. This term is commonly used in everyday speak when we’re talking about our health and diets but do you really know what it means?

In this post of the Simple Food Terms Explained series, we look at the term “sugar” to better understand how it really affects our health and well being.

What is Sugar?

When we think of sugar, we usually envision the white stuff we add by the packets or spoonfuls to our coffee or tea. In simplified terms, sugar is a form of simple carbohydrates and provides little nutritional value to our diet. Sugar does provide flavor, which is why foods labeled “low-fat” often contain extra forms of sugar to make up for the loss of flavor that occurs when fat is omitted.

How Much Are We Really Ingesting?

It’s not always clear how much or even if you are ingesting sugar just by looking at the nutritional label. Manufacturers will sometimes list different forms of sugar by different names. Sugars can often show up on nutrition labels on words containing the suffix “ose” such as:

  • Fructose is a form of sugar commonly found in fruits, vegetables and their juices. It’s also the form of sugar that’s found in honey.
  • Sucrose is the sugar we commonly keep in our sugar bowls.
  • Dextrose is a sugar derived from starches such as corn, wheat or rice.
  • Lactose is the sugar found in the milk made by female mammals such as cows, goats, sheep and humans. Many people suffer from digestive problems such as gas or diarrhea, from ingesting lactose, and are said to be “lactose intolerant.” If you are lactose intolerant, it’s important to scan food labels for things like bread and other baked goods like cookies, since manufacturers sometimes add it as a way to prevent caking.

The Dangers Ahead

Too much sugar in your diet increases the risk of dying with heart disease. The largest culprits of additional and unnecessary sugar? This comes from sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks and energy beverages, accounting for more than 30 per cent of the added sugar we regularly consume.

Besides its well known correlations to weight gain and cavities, sugar can act as filler, providing empty calories. By doing so, this might make you feel full but without the benefits of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients healthier foods provide for your diet.

How Much is Too Much?

Oddly enough, there are no federal guidelines for the daily amount of sugar we should be eating. However, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars daily and men limit their added sugar intake to 150 calories.

What does this mean in real life? Most 12 oz cans of soda contain more than your daily recommended intake of added sugars. If giving up the fizzy drink is difficult, try switching to seltzer with a squeeze of fresh fruit juice or getting your sweet tooth fix with fresh fruit instead of ice cream or cakes.

Simple food terms are often more complicated than they seem, and understanding them fully is the first step in living a healthier lifestyle.

Stay tuned for our next installment of Simple Food Terms Explained in which we explore the complicated world of cholesterol!

Sources:

http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/glucose

http://www.livestrong.com/article/274155-what-is-dextrose-in-food/

http://www.fructose.org/pdf/ADAFructosefactsheetfinal.pdf

http://www.wisegeekhealth.com/what-is-lactose.htm

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Sugars-and-Carbohydrates_UCM_303296_Article.jsp