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The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar

We love it; in fact, we're born loving it, and the taste for sugar never seems to go away. But if you've been noticing that more and more people are discussing the evils of sugar, you've probably discovered that, like many delightful things in life, a little sugar is a good thing, but a lot of sugar can be very, very bad. Sugar, we're told, makes us fat, leads us into diabetes and creates cravings we can't live without. Avoidance of all sugar (including the natural sugars found in fruits) has formed the basis of some of the latest diets, helping people lose weight for a time, but often resulting in ling term crankiness and sometimes even constipation. Do we need sugar? How much is too much?

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There's no established RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for sugar, because as far as it's known, we don't need sugar for nutrition. All foods have some natural sugars, but sugar itself—the white or brown stuff we put in our cookies, is a purely optional taste sensation. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends that sugar make up no more than 8% of the daily intake of calories, but most American adults take in twice that much. It's an easy thing to do when a single can of soda pop contains more than 10 teaspoons of sugar!

Sugar isn't good for you, but it tastes so good that even people who have been warned away from it for their very lives sometimes "cheat" anyway. For the rest of us, sugar is an enduring passion, and one we occasionally monitor and regulate, especially as we put on weight or grow into the age range where our doctors are worrying us about diabetes. So, what are the best ways to put a temporary restraining order on the vast amounts of sugar most of us regularly consume?

  1. Think about it. Most people don't have any idea of their sugar intake. Who has time to read the labels on spaghetti sauce, pudding, fruit filled yogurt or our favorite Starbucks libations? When you do, you may be shocked to find sugar—and lots of it—in baby formulas, "healthy" cereals and nearly any prepackaged food you can name. Try this: read all the labels in your kitchen as you take things out to cook or eat, and make a note of the ones that don't contain sugar. You may find it's a short list.  
  2. Kill the soda machine. Soda pop is a huge culprit in the sugar wars. A 12 ounce can of Dr. Pepper has 38 grams of sugar and 140 calories. If you gave up one daily can of soda, you'd save 980 calories a week, and at the end of a month, will have saved over 3,500 calories, or one pound of weight. The worst thing about soda is that there are no nutrients in it, so it doesn't really solve the problem of hunger. The water in a soda is so saturated with sugar that it actually creates an additional need in the body for water, so it also doesn't solve the problem of thirst. If you find you really love the bubbly, cold aspect of soda, switch to club soda or seltzer, both of which are sugar free.  
  3. Cut the sugar cravings. Head them off at the pass by eating real foods containing complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, proteins from meat, eggs and cheese and fiber found in vegetables. Try substituting a handful of almonds for a bag of M&Ms : you'll get protein and fiber that will ease your hunger and last awhile.  
  4. Eat low-sugar sweets. Who says you should give up chocolate? In fact, dark chocolate contains healthy components; anti-oxidants shown to prevent cancer, enhance well-being and satiate hunger. But buy the good stuff; the dark chocolate whose ingredients include cocoa mass, cocoa liquor, sugar (yes, sugar) and lecithin. Don't buy chocolate whose first ingredient is sugar; it's been so watered down by the cheap addition of white sugar that its natural benefits are annulled.
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