In the 1950’s, the USDA reported an annual intake of added sugar to be approximately 110 pounds per person. In the year 2000, the average annual intake per capita jumped to a staggering 152 pounds! This means we are eating about six times the World Health Organization’s recommended daily maximum of 6-9 teaspoons of added sugar. How does this affect our health, and what about natural sugars found in food?
Sugar can be thought of in two ways. The first type of sugar is naturally occurring sugar, which is found in foods such as fruit, milk products, and veggies. The second type of sugar is added sugar, which includes table sugar (sucrose), honey, and high fructose corn syrup, among 50 other sweeteners found in processed foods these days. The main problem with added sugar is its rapid digestion. This spikes blood sugar levels, causing us to quickly crash soon after. Another issue with added sugar is that it often goes unrecognized as caloric intake. We can very easily ingest hundreds of calories in sugar when we consume sweetened juices and candy, as these foods often don’t contain fiber or other nutrients that fill us up. According to the American Diabetes Association, the increase in sugar-sweetened beverages in our diet is thought to contribute to the rising level of obesity within the US (2014).
Foods naturally containing sugars such as plant-based items and dairy are all a part of a healthy diet, as these items have essential vitamins, minerals and other compounds necessary for proper nutrition. It is best to always balance these carbohydrate-rich foods with a protein-based item to stabilize blood sugar levels. Dairy is actually great because it is a combination food that contains both natural sugars and protein! For an energizing snack, combine a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts or a low-fat string cheese. This will be sure to keep you going until your next meal.
For the athletes out there, water usually will suffice for activities lasting about an hour in duration. For endurance athletes, it may be beneficial to consume a sports drink or juice in diluted form (mixed half-and-half with water) to help maintain carbohydrate and sugar levels for energy. Additionally, it is beneficial for endurance athletes to consume a balanced meal about an hour before their workout, which should be a mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates, such as an apple with peanut butter and steel-cut oats. Eating added sugars before a workout or competition can cause an unwanted crash, hindering performance.