The sweet little calorie monster that takes the edge off our morning coffee, makes our desserts delectable, and wreaks gradual havoc on our waistlines.
And we sometimes wonder: how can something so good be so bad?
Doubt no more. Fear even less. Because we have your guide to sugar: the bitter truth including the good, the bad, and the fact that there’s still hope.
The Good: Natural Sugar
Many diets will promote cutting out any and all sugar in your diet until the end of time. But you know the problem with this means cutting out entire food groups—such as milk and fruit— that are part of the foundation of a healthy diet!
Milk and fruit do contain their own sugars, but these sugars are natural and don’t interfere with the real nutritional content of milk and fruit.
Here’s where your label reading skills come in: yes, there is sugar (lactose) in a gallon of 1% milk. However, you’ll find that there is no added or unnatural sugar to be found there. In consuming milk, the health benefits you reap are greater than any harm that could be caused by the natural sugars.
Vitamin D, protein calcium, and potassium are all strongly present in a healthy serving of milk. Not to mention adequate dairy intake is essential to developing healthy bone mass and growth.
With fruit, you shouldn’t even have to read a label! The amount of fructose in your daily apple is entirely overshadowed by the benefits of the dietary fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
The Bad News about Sugar: Added Sugar
What is added sugar? It’s really quite simple. Added sugar is downright unnecessary.
Read the nutrition label on a bag of white table sugar. You will see a calorie count, sugar content, and carbohydrate content. You will not see protein, fiber, vitamins, or any other nutrients. Scan the label on your favorite soft drink: once again, 240 calories in a bottle and plenty of caffeine, but no contribution to your overall health.
Compare the amount of sugar in a PopTart to the actual nutritional value of that PopTart. You see what we’re saying?
You see, whereas lactose and fructose are naturally-occurring sugars our bodies are meant to have, anything extra is just that — extra. Added sugar ranges from the teaspoon you add to your coffee, to what you use in a favorite cake recipe, or that pack of Skittles you downed at the movie.
Essentially, intake of added sugar throws off the whole “balance” part of a balanced diet, and crams your body full of empty calories.
Furthermore, added sugar is used in processed food to extend shelf life and preserved goods such as packaged and frozen meals. Processed food has been tweaked and altered, so it doesn’t really resemble its natural form anymore.
Real food goes through a life cycle. It grows, it lives, and then it dies or goes bad. While “low fat” or “low carb” diet foods claim to be healthier, they often have added sugars and other chemicals to extend the shelf life of the product and make it taste better.
There’s Still Hope:
There are plenty of fad diets that will tell you to cut fruit and milk entirely in order to see weight loss results. And, while slashing your carbohydrates and any sort of sugar intake for a short period of time is a great way to kick start the weight loss process, your body ultimately needs nutrients found in milk and fruit and whole grains.
The point isn’t to cut out food groups, the point is to balance it out and eat real food.
But what if I need something sweet in my life?
We all do from time to time! Try adding natural sweeteners into your diet such as honey or coconut sugar. These actually contain trace vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants.
For more healthy eating tips, check out Food Cravings and How You Can Tackle Them.