Sugar: 4 Things You May Not Have Known About the Sweet Menace

It’s sweet, delicious, and maybe one of the unhealthiest and most addictive substances on the planet.

That’s not hyperbole. That’s the reality of sugar.

From obesity to depression to diabetes to cardiovascular issues to cancer, excess sugar intake has been strongly linked to many of the most deadly health issues we face.

Of course, you probably already knew how unhealthy sugar could be for you. So here are four things you might not have known to help you deal with the sugar plague.

1. It’s in more than you think

Cookies, cake, ice cream, soda – these are what come to mind when we think of the sugar-loaded foods many try to avoid. But it’s the ones we don’t think of that can be the real problem.

Cereals, soups, cured meats, and even bread have added sugar. Same, too, do many sauces and condiments (ketchup?!) and especially many “low-fat” foods.

With many consumers thinking low-fat equals healthy, food manufacturers have focused on decreasing the fat content in their products. However, fat adds taste, and without it, food becomes quite bland. Thus, manufacturers have substituted sugar to keep the “low-fat” label consumers seek.

The result is most people don’t realize how much-added sugar they’re actually consuming. According to the National Cancer Institute, the average adult male takes in 24 teaspoons of added sugar every day. That’s equal to 384 calories.

2. It can be addictive … REALLY addictive

Sugar doesn’t just make your taste buds happy. It also releases dopamine in the brain, aka, the “feel-good hormone,” which can create a short-term high and spark energy in the body. Unfortunately, that high is similar to the one people get from doing illegal drugs, with some studies suggesting sugar is as addictive as cocaine.

3. Sugar alcohol is not sugar

With many catching on to the negatives of sugar, health-food manufacturers are switching to using sugar alcohol instead. But is it really better? The jury is still out.

Sugar alcohols, also called polyols, are carbohydrates whose structure resembles both sugars and alcohol. They’re found naturally in some fruits and vegetables, such as plums, strawberries, and avocado, and also made by processing regular sugars.

The biggest thing is they activate the same sweet receptors on your tongue to improve the taste. Still, they’re not as efficiently absorbed or digested as regular sugar and therefore contain fewer calories and create less of a blood-sugar spike.

4. It’s not all bad

Like anything, it’s easier to paint with a broad brush and say all sugar is bad. That’s not entirely true, though.

Sugar is naturally found in many foods, particularly fruits, and fruits can be quite healthy for you in moderation. The reason is in eating a piece of fruit, you’re not only consuming sugar (in the form of fructose) but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. All of these things help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut so your body can metabolize the sugar found in the fruit without the excessive blood sugar spike. As you may have heard before, sugar is nature’s candy.

Berries are one of the healthiest foods in the world and should be incorporated into a healthy diet. Raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all lower in sugar and extremely nutritious.

Watermelon, the most iconic summer fruit, is also a fruit that is lower in sugar, with 1 cup containing under 10 grams of sugar.

It’s the added, refined sugar that you find in processed foods that should be limited.