Sugar can be really confusing. It doesn’t have the best reputation, yet you can find it in many healthy foods. And while nutrition labels do list sugar content, it’s easy to wonder: how much is safe?
The average health-conscious consumer knows the deal with added sugars. Most are found in processed and pre-prepared foods, like sugar-sweetened beverages, breakfast cereals, and boxed snacks. These options are always bad news.1 With such a negative name, sugar in apparently healthy foods also seems like a taboo. Here’s what you need to know about this sweet and simple ingredient in commonly eaten foods.
Many people are tripped up by fruits. We’re always told that it is part of a healthy diet, but it’s also packed with a type of sugar called fructose. Can you eat too much of a good thing?
Well, Americans don’t eat a lot of fruits, to begin with. About 76% of people don’t meet the recommendation of 1 ½ to 2 cups a day. Plus, fruit also has lots of fiber, a carbohydrate that regulates blood sugar. It “makes up” for the high fructose content.2
Your best bet? Aim for the recommended 1 ½ to 2 cups a day. For example, 1 cup of sugar equals 1 medium grapefruit, 32 seedless grapes, 1 large banana, or 8 large strawberries.3
As a sweet treat, chocolate gets a bad reputation. What happens if you snack on some chocolate every day? You might have heard that it can actually decrease stress and improve mood, something we could all certainly use.4
The type of chocolate matters. Milk chocolate is full of added sugars, so don’t bother. Reach for dark chocolate instead! It’s linked to a lower body mass index (BMI) and high antioxidant intake. The catch? According to a 2012 study, dark chocolate gives these benefits when it’s eaten twice a week. Any more might have the opposite effect.5
For thousands of years, honey has been used as a natural medicine. It has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative effects. Honey even contains some vitamins like thiamine and vitamin C. However, honey is also pretty darn sweet. About 75% of honey’s sugar is fructose and glucose, with fructose taking the first place. Can it be part of a healthy diet?6
It sure can. In fact, honey has anti-diabetic properties, thanks to its anti-hyperglycemic properties. The fructose in honey also reduces food intake by slowing down digestion. So don’t be scared of honey. Obviously, it should be eaten in moderation, just like other superfoods. Go for local, organic honey when possible.7
4. Flavored Yogurt
Yogurt is tricky if you don’t know what to look for. It’s apparently healthy – hello, probiotics – but many kinds have added sugar. Yet, yogurt also offers protein, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and other nutrients. What’s the deal?8
Ditch the non-fat yogurt. To make up for the taste, many brands pile on sugar, so go for low or full-fat yogurt. Between the yogurt’s fat and protein, you’ll stay full for a long time. Most importantly, choose unflavored yogurt. The “fruit” is often filled with sugar and syrups. Just add real, whole fruit instead.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Naturally, sugar substitutes make sense. Very little is needed because they’re sweeter than normal sugar. For instance, aspartame is 180 times sweeter, while advantame is 20,000 times sweeter. They make a big impact with zero calories.9
The problem with artificial sweeteners is that they act on different taste pathways than sugar. This means that hankering for something sweet is never actually met. Basically, it spells trouble.10
Stay away from artificial sweeteners. Your sugar craving will only grow and grow! They’re often found in diet soda, but the packets are also bad news.
Eat whole foods whenever possible. By ditching the added sugars, you’re already making a significant move. With everything else, aim for moderation, even if it’s healthy.
|↑1||Added Sugars in the Diet. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑2||Moore, Latetia V., and Frances E. Thompson. “Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations—United States, 2013.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 64, no. 26 (2015): 709-713.|
|↑3||Fruits. ChooseMyPlate.Gov, United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑4||Al Sunni, Ahmed, and Rabia Latif. “Effects of chocolate intake on perceived stress; a controlled clinical study.” International journal of health sciences 8, no. 4 (2014): 393.|
|↑5||Golomb, Beatrice A., Sabrina Koperski, and Halbert L. White. “Association between more frequent chocolate consumption and lower body mass index.” Archives of internal medicine 172, no. 6 (2012): 519-521.|
|↑6||Miguel, M. G., M. D. Antunes, and M. L. Faleiro. “Honey as a Complementary Medicine.” Integrative medicine insights 12 (2017).|
|↑7||Erejuwa, Omotayo O., Siti A. Sulaiman, and Mohd S. Ab Wahab. “Honey-a novel antidiabetic agent.” International journal of biological sciences 8, no. 6 (2012): 913.|
|↑8||El-Abbadi, Naglaa Hani, Maria Carlota Dao, and Simin Nikbin Meydani. “Yogurt: role in healthy and active aging.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99, no. 5 (2014): 1263S-1270S.|
|↑9||Artificial Sweeteners. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑10||Frank, Guido KW, Tyson A. Oberndorfer, Alan N. Simmons, Martin P. Paulus, Julie L. Fudge, Tony T. Yang, and Walter H. Kaye. “Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener.” Neuroimage 39, no. 4 (2008): 1559-1569.|