Sugar, how do we love thee? To the tune of 22 teaspoons per day, 13 to 16 teaspoons more than the recommended amount.
Sugar in all its forms shows up almost universally in packaged foods. From condiments to baked goods, just about every processed product contains some kind of sweetener. You’d expect to find it in Oreos and Cocoa Puffs, but what is it doing in ketchup? And let’s not forget about soft drinks, which are essentially sugar water in branded bottles.
What is all this sugar doing to us? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Most sugar in processed foods comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup, one of the most highly refined sweeteners out there. Next in line is regular old white sugar, infamous for its ability to trigger hyper behavior in small children everywhere.
Unlike natural sugar sources such as fruits, these sweeteners contain no nutrients whatsoever. Your body has to pull vitamins and minerals from other resources to metabolize them, leaving organs and tissues short of the support they need to operate. And since most people aren’t eating fresh, whole plant foods to replenish these nutrients, they wind up chronically deficient and more prone to disease.
Refined sugars also don’t have any fiber to buffer their absorption into the bloodstream. They get broken down quickly and wind up circulating as glucose, the main fuel source for cells. These quick spikes in blood sugar can cause the pancreas to overreact by producing too much insulin in an effort to “clean up” the sweet mess. This produces the infamous “crash” that comes after eating a hurried lunch of a candy bar and a bottle of soda out of the office vending machine. Too many spikes and crashes puts strain on the pancreas and eventually blunts cell sensitivity to insulin, setting the stage for Type II diabetes.
There is some evidence that shows sugar plays a role in suppressing immune function. According to Bauman (2013), studies have shown that sugar intake not only makes it harder for some types of white blood cells to combat infection but also reduces the numbers of other types responsible for recognizing and eliminating pathogens. Eating sugar may also deplete the body of the nutrients it needs to mount a healthy immune response when necessary.
With all this evidence stacked against sugar, what’s a lover of good (vegan) sweets to do when the craving for a treat strikes? Check out this infographic from Health Perch for a comprehensive list of alternative sweeteners to satisfy the occasional desire for a sugary treat. Remember, though, that all sugar is sugar and eating too much “healthy” sweetener can cause the same problems as too much refined sugar over time.
Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2013). Therapeutic Nutrition Part II. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College