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The human tongue can distinguish between four basic flavors—salty, sour, bitter and sweet, but we are naturally attracted to sweet flavors because we are primates—essentially, animals that have evolved while eating fruit. This helps explain that when it comes to sugar foods, most of us can’t get enough. While it’s common knowledge that too much sugar is a big no-no as far as our health is concerned, it’s less well known how our bodies process sugar and exactly how much is too much.
How Do Sugar Foods Affect Our Bodies?
Although sugar has been identified as toxic, we need sugar for energy—but in the right amounts. The problem with sugar in our western diet is quantity—we take in far too much of it, particularly in the form of added sugars. Too much sugar in the diet is linked to a host of health problems, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease. When we ingest carbohydrates from sources such as table sugar and starchy vegetables (like potatoes), our body converts them into glucose (sugar). Glucose is processed through our body to be used for energy immediately or to be stored in the muscles and liver to use later on.
This process is mainly facilitated by insulin, which is a hormone produced in the pancreas. In healthy individuals, when insulin levels are high, glucose is directed to be stored into muscle, fat and liver cells for future use; on the flip side, when insulin levels are low, glucose is released into the bloodstream for immediate energy.
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How Much is Too Much Sugar?
According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women. “Added sugars” refers to sugars like fructose and sucrose (table sugar) which are added to foods like soft drinks and desserts; this does not refer to natural sugars like those that occur in fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to natural sugars, however, as long as you stay within the recommended 2-3 servings of fruit a day, you do not need to worry about consuming too much (or too little) sugar.
While some people avoid too much sugar intake by opting for “sugar-free” selections, the research is conflicting on whether or not the artificial sweeteners used in these options are any better than regular sugars. For example, a statement from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association says that while sugar-free alternatives can help with weight loss regulation, the potential negative effects on appetite and energy perception show that more research on the topic is needed. In other words, the experts are not giving artificial sweeteners the green light anymore, as they once did.
High Carb and High Sugar Foods That Can Spike Your Blood Sugar
While it is an obvious choice to stay away from soft drinks, desserts and candy when avoiding sugar, navigating the wide world of carbohydrates can be difficult. To help you out, here’s a list of sugar foods that are particularly high in sugar and carbs that can cause spikes in your blood sugar. If you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems, consult with your physician to map out a diet that is best for you.
Pitch the Processed Carbs
Fiber is a key nutrient in the regulation of blood sugar as it causes our body to absorb carbs more slowly. However, in processed carbohydrates like white rice, pasta and bread, most of the fiber is stripped away (along with other beneficial nutrients), making it harder for our body to stabilize our blood sugar, which results in blood sugar spikes.
For example, a 2012 study found that people who eat five or more servings of white rice per week have an increased risk of type two diabetes, but when just a third of those servings are replaced with the more fiber-rich brown rice, the risk is lowered by up to 16 per cent.
Don’t Overdo the Dried Fruit
While dried fruit sugar foods like raisins and dried mangos aren’t typically considered bad for our health, they actually have over four times as many calories and nearly twice as much sugar as their hydrated counterparts. This is because the lack of water makes the natural sugar more concentrated, and the smaller size causes us to eat more (who can eat just one or two?). The same is true of other dried fruit, so you’re not doing yourself any favors by indulging in a bag.
Pass on Potatoes
Although technically a vegetable, potatoes are known to cause blood sugar spikes due to their fast digestion rate. We should all keep an eye on this starchy carb! For a healthier option, try opting for some delicious sweet potatoes or yams instead.
Fast Food is Not Your Friend
Often deep-fried and high in saturated fat, fast food is known to be unhealthy, but it’s not often associated with blood sugar. That’s because people easily forget the association between carbs and glucose. However, the high carbs and calories found in these foods can easily cause spikes in blood sugar.
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