Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy, but too much sugar can contribute to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Federal dietary guidelines recommend eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins and limiting foods high in fat, sodium and added sugar.
Sugar occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products, but is also added to processed foods such as desserts, candy, soda, flavored dairy products, pastries, snack foods and condiments. Ingredients that indicate the presence of sugar include table sugar, fructose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, maple syrup and molasses.
Calories and Weight Gain
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting sugary foods such as soda, desserts, candy and pastries because they are high in calories, but offer few essential nutrients. An adequate amount of calories is necessary to function, but consuming too many calories can lead to weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, liver and gallbladder disease, immobility, arthritis and sleep apnea. Nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins are encouraged because they are mostly low in calories, but packed with essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Oklahoma State University (OSU) says individuals who fill up on sugary foods and lack nutrient-dense foods in their diets are at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
Diabetes and Hyperglycemia
According to the American Diabetes Association, eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes. However, sugar does raise blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and diabetics with consistently high blood sugars are at risk for diabetic complications such as vision problems, nerve damage, kidney and heart disease, and skin disorders. Severe hyperglycemia can lead to a coma and in some cases death. Diabetics should control their sugar intake by limiting sugary foods such as desserts, soda, candy and sweets and following a healthy diet that focuses on eating in moderation with portion control.
When sugar is broken down, it produces an acid that decays tooth enamel and can lead to dental cavities, according to OSU and the USDA. The incidence of cavities increases with frequent and prolonged exposure to sugar. The USDA says dental cavities can be reduced by consuming less sugar, drinking fluoridated water and using dental products that contain fluoride.
Artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes can replace sugar as a healthy alternative that can support weight loss and weight maintenance because they are sweet like sugar but have far fewer calories. Diabetics can substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar because they do not raise blood sugar. Artificial sweeteners that have been deemed safe to eat by the Food and Drug Administration include aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), acesulfame K (Sunett) and sucralose (Splenda). Some artificial sweeteners may have side effects, so you can opt for natural sweeteners such as honey or agave nectar.