Processed Food (7) - Sugar and You

Processed Food (7) - Sugar and You

Michael Moss says...

Our bodies are hard-wired for sweets

That's not a good thing. It means that it's very easy to get hooked on sugar. Studies have shown that our brains light up in the same manner as when presented with tobacco and drugs. In addition, it used to be thought that just the tip of the tongue reacted to sugar. In reality, the whole tongue including thousands of taste buds all react at once. With this onslaught, is there any wonder that sugar and foods containing sugar become addictive?

Food companies know the perfect amount of sugar to put in their products and have capitalized on this. They put lots of sugar in processed foods where you would expect sugar, but also they are dumping sugar in other products to make them just as appealing. Kelly D. Brownell, Ph. D. says in Food Fight: 

Adding sugar is a cheap way to make foods taste good. In Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter, for example, roasted peanuts are the first ingredient and sugar is the second. High-fructose corn syrup is the third ingredient in Heinz Ketchup and the first in Kellogg’s Strawberry Nutri-Grain yogurt bars. Sugar is the second ingredient in Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers. Marion Nestle, nutrition expert at New York University, pointed to a survey in Consumer Reports magazine showing that consumers found sweetness just as important as peanut flavor in choosing their favorite peanut butter.

Beyond making processed items more desirable so we keep buying and craving their products, manufacturers have found several other advantages to adding sugar to their products. They use sugar to:

  • keep bakery items fresh
  • prevent jams and jellies from spoiling
  • ferment breads and alcohol
  • improve flavor and textures of food and drink.

What sugar does to us

Nutritional benefits of sugar

There is no nutritional value to sugar -- no nutrients -- nothing. Just calories. We need a small amount for ready energy, and it would be good if we stopped at that. Yet, we keep eating more and more of it to the detriment of our nutrition. This is evidenced in Food Fight ...


A report from the National Academy of Sciences highlighted an additional concern: people with diets high in added sugars have lower intakes of key nutrients.

Therefore, there are no benefits to eating the amount of sugar that we do. 

Harmful effects of sugar

The list of harmful effects from too much sugar are many and should make us pause. Here are some of them:

  • sugar consumption leads to eating too much and nutrition deficits
  • tooth decay
  • obesity and all its problems
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high triglyceride levels
  • high LDL cholesterol
  • low HDL cholesterol
  • difficulty managing cravings
  • eat faster and eat more because food is smoother and easier to swallow
  • altered gut health leading to leaky gut
...people getting 20% of calories from added sugar face a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who get just 8%. JAMA

Categories of sugar

There are basically two categories of sugar: (1) natural sugars (those sugars present in food in their natural state, such as fructose, lactose, sucrose) and (2) added sugar or free sugar (refined table sugar, etc.)

The World Health Organization recommends..

...that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added, or free sugars. This equates to approximately 7 sugar cubes (30g.). Children should have less than 19g a day for children aged 4 - 6 years old (5 sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children 7 - 10 years old.

To put this in perspective, there are approximately 39g of added sugar (9 1/3 teaspoons) in a 12 oz can of Coke. 

We need some sugar for energy when active, but it's easy to say that we are overdoing it and soft drinks or added refined sugar are not wise sources for the few grams of sugar that we need.

Added sugar comes in many forms: table sugar, syrups, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, etc. It's good to be cautious when using any of these. And it is very important to check food labels and ingredient lists to find hidden sugars in processed food. Here is a list of terms to watch for in the ingredient lists on packages:

  • agave
  • brown sugar
  • anything with the terms sugar, sweetener, or syrup in the wording
  • fructose
  • glucose
  • corn syrup
  •  honey
  • invert sugar
  •  lactose
  •  maltose
  •  molasses
  •  sucrose

How to cut back on sugar

The easiest way to cut back on sugar is to cut back or eliminate processed foods. Cutting out candy, cakes,  and baked goods while choosing fruit, vegetables and whole grains is a good tactic. It would be good to make it a practice to drink water or non-sugary drinks instead of sugary ones. And, why not try making your own sauces so you can control the amount of sugar.



With sugar, as well as oil/fat and salt, it is important to be your own advocate and caretaker. I guess my best advice is to not leave this to chance. Keep track of everything. The result? By reading the food labels, you'll know when to skip foods with high concentrations of added sugars. It's difficult to cut back on any of these products, but you'll be feeling much better as soon as you do. 


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