Friday, February 13, 2009

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

I have to wonder how much is too much because I've been given different answers from....everybody. As a kid, my dentist used to say, "Eat ALL of your Halloween candy right away and cut down on soda." I never drank soda, but I did used to stash my plastic pumpkin full of candy under my bed for months. You read in the news how "over-consumption" of sodas, desserts and other sugary goods may lead to obesity, type 11 diabetes and heart disease. What is "over-consumption?" To me, more than one glass of pure juice a day would be over consumption, but if I told that to anyone in line at the supermarket, I would be laughed out the door and their liters of soda on the check-out belt would explode.

I ask not only about white refined sugar, but all sweeteners, even the good ones. Even the raw honeys and maple syrups and dried fruits can be eaten in, how much is too much? How much were we meant to be eating? Does a craving ever justify what I do with a craving? Is my craving physical, like my body needing more balance, or is it a learned response to the thought of sugar, which begins producing endorphins and increasing the pleasure portion of my brain, thus rewarding me for having the thought in the first place?

In most cases, I have learned to trust my intuition when I eat. What I eat and how much is mostly obvious to me now because I have taken extreme efforts to see past what's marketed at me. Though the junk food at the grocery store sings like a siren for my attention, I have learned to trust the quiet fruits and silent vegetables. This being said, I can say now while I am not in the middle of a freak sugar craving, that yes, I should carefully limit even my natural sugar intake. However, when the sugar-craving-moment strikes, I often have no gauge as to how much is too much. I've never seen it in writing and I don't give myself a limit because I am usually in such control of things like that. It's those days when I am feeling awful and stressed beyond belief that it would be helpful to have this problem of how much is too much issue solved once and for all. It would be nice to have something in writing to fall back on when I am not sure that I can trust myself.

Here are some samples of what I found. I am sharing this because I find it interesting that there are so many different ideas roaming around out there. To me, it's obvious that we would all be better off if we didn't eat ANY sugar (well, maybe sometimes something natural like dried fruit or raw honey...) but the way for most people is to try to moderate their over-consumption of white table sugar. A great blog that I enjoy reading, A Life Less Sweet, is all about cutting out high fructose corn syrup. It is very informative and most recently someone has blogged as a guest, regarding, "How much sugar is too much for kids?" I highly recommend reading this article.

Andrew Weil, M.D. has this to say about eating sugar in moderation:
  • "Your own response to sugar is the best test of how much you can handle. In some people, sugar triggers mood swings - it brings on a rush of energy followed later by a "crash" into lethargy and depression. Others don't get the rush; they just feel logy and sleepy after consuming sugar. And, of course, some people don't notice any physical or mental effects at all.
  • I recommend cutting down or eliminating sugar if you experience mood swings, fluctuating energy levels, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, or have frequent vaginal yeast infections. You may notice an improvement in your moods, a lessening of your arthritis symptoms and the frequency of yeast infections when you reduce or eliminate the sugar in your diet."
The American Heart Association has a great take on why to reduce our intake of sugars:

"The primary reasons to reduce the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars are to lower total calorie intake and to get enough of the nutrients your body needs. People who consume large amounts of beverages with added sugars tend to consume more calories. Some experts believe that calories consumed as liquid are not as satisfying and filling as calories consumed as food. This may have a negative effect on people who are trying to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight."

How much sugar is too much? Is there a way to justify or support your answer? I would love to hear from you on this.


Flirt said...

i recently gave up eating refined sugar. it's been alright. it reminded me of giving up cigarettes. the first week was very difficult. nearly gave in. now though i don't even think about it!

it's also true about the fat thing. i can see myself getting slimmer by the day!

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Amy said...

Hi, I love your blog! It seems like we are dealing with similar issues. For me, too much sugar is defined by my reaction. If I feel hungrier than I was before I ate the sugar, or if I feel myself getting hyper, I've had too much. I think you are probably right that the ideal amount of "sugar" would probably be a piece or two of fruit a day. But maintaining that is swimming against the tide in our society.

Intelligence said...

Wow! I commend you for doing this. I might actually consider giving it a shot...only problem is, that as a college student I really don't have much of a selection to choose from (especially since I'm on the meal plan).

I have noticed that after eating something with sugar in it I don't feel well at all so I don't eat or drink many things with sugar to begin with. I've had my sugars tested and they are normal so I know I'm healthy in that regards.

Best of luck! :)

My Year Without said...

Awesome that you cut out sugar! I agree that it's toughest in the beginning. Wow--you have overcome two huge addictions! Sugar and cigarettes. That is truly to be commended.

I think you nailed it. Eating healthy and having super high standards is very much "swimming against the tide in our society." For me, it is a fun challenge. Nutrition is my passion. Good for you for listening to your body's reaction to sugar. It can be difficult when our body says NO but our brain says YES to sugar.

I have not thought much about college meal plans (at least since I graduated college!) but what a quandry! Does your college cafeteria have a suggestion box? I would do everything I could to get more fresh fruits and naturally sweetened items in there, and less sugary crap. But I am no angel when it comes to cafeteria food....back in the day I ate so much sugar in the college cafeteria. I used to sneak hot Snickerdoodles out in my backpack...