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Sugar and your health

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Sugar and your health

When reducing your sugar intake, be careful not to eliminate nutritious foods because of their added sugar. Focus on the overall quality of your diet.

Recently, sugar has been portrayed as the new public health enemy. Constant chatter across various media has us believing that now’s the time to cut the sweet stuff out of our diets for good—and fast. It’s been called everything from the single worst ingredient in the modern diet to completely toxic.

But while excess sugar might be a contributing factor to obesity and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, it’s important to remember that these highly complex conditions are the result of many factors and that no single culprit is to blame.

Even so, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar we consume every day. To do this, however, we first need to properly understand the different sources of sugar in our diet.

Types of sugar

The truth is, not all sugars are equal. There are two main types of sugar in our food, and both types can be part of a healthy diet.

Naturally occurring sugar

Naturally occurring sugar is found in fruit, vegetables, and milk products— these four foods that are packed with essential nutrients. Given that most of us don’t get enough of these foods every day, and that the sugar they contain is in low concentrations, there’s no need to stop enjoying them in an effort to reduce your sugar intake.

Added sugar

Added sugar include all sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages, either during processing or food preparation at home. Examples include white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, glucose-fructose and corn syrup.

Some foods that contain added sugar provide your body with extra calories and not much nutritional value. These are the foods you can try to limit when looking to cut back on added sugar. On the other hand, some nutritious foods, such as whole grain cereals, flavoured yogurts etc. also contain added sugars and provide you with many essential nutrients. Here are the conclusions from a 2009 scientific statement from the American Heart Association regarding dietary sugars and cardiovascular health:1

  • When “sugars are added to otherwise nutrient-rich foods, such as sugar-sweetened dairy products like flavoured milk and yogurts and sugar-sweetened cereal, the quality of children’s and adolescents’ diets improves, and in the case of flavoured milks, no adverse effects on weight status were found”.
  • The form in which added sugars are consumed appears to be an important modifier of the impact on diet quality. Soft drinks, sugar and sweets are more likely to have a negative impact on diet quality, whereas dairy foods, milk drinks and pre-sweetened cereals may have a positive impact.

These foods contribute to improve your diet quality and can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

In conclusion, focus on the overall quality of your diet rather than one nutrient. Most importantly, take time to savour and enjoy each bite.   

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