Sugar has a pretty bad rap, and it's not all unwarranted — studies show it may be as addictive as alcohol or cigarettes. Beyond increased rates of obesity all over the country, overzealous consumption — the average American consumes a whopping 130 pounds of sugar per year — leads to higher risks of type 2 diabetes, liver damage, heart disease, and even cancer. With these staggering statistics, you might be steering clear completely. But it's important to realize that not all sugar is bad.
Generally speaking, naturally occurring sugars, like those from fruit, are less detrimental to your health than added, refined sugars, like those in a powdery doughnut. Added sugars come in the form of granules, powders, and syrups that are cooked into foods or added at the table. According to the American Heart Association, most women should be consuming no more than 100 calories from these added sugars per day, or about 24 grams (six teaspoons of sugar).
Keep reading to learn about the sugary foods you can enjoy freely and those to avoid.
Looking at the nutritional values of a small doughnut and piece of fruit, you might see similar sugar counts, gram for gram. But according to Heidi Skolnik, nutritionist to the Women's Sports Medicine Center in New York, comparing these two foods on their sheer sugar count is ridiculous. "[Food containing] naturally occurring sugar is the vehicle through which we get our nutrients." Beyond the sugar content, it's essential to recognize that a piece of fresh fruit also offers nutrients such as vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
But eliminating refined sugar goes beyond cutting back on dessert and blended coffee beverages. It pops up in surprising places, and many women don't realize they're hitting those six teaspoons a day — without having touched a cookie! Clean-eating guru Cynthia Sass MPH, RD, explains: "There's a little bit of added sugar in your flavored yogurt. There's a little bit of added sugar in your crackers. It adds up." If you're concerned that you fall into this category, then look to the source of your food. Are you eating a fresh piece of fruit from the market, or did this come from a can where it's been saturated in sugary corn syrup? Is it a snack from the gas station or a healthy dessert you cooked at home?
While this isn't a free ticket to eat as much naturally occurring sugar as you want, this should clear up qualms about avoiding sugar altogether. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, puts it best: "We actually need sugar; it's our body's preferred fuel . . . but we eat too damn much of it."