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How Sweet It Is...

...to be loved by you. If you're anything like me you probably sang the title instead of merely reading it. Or maybe you went back fifty years in time to the 1960's or 1970's when cars with convertible tops blared James Taylor's version of this song. Whatever the case, it was different back then. Times have changed...


What hasn't changed is that from the beginning of group fitness classes, music has been instrumental (get it?) in getting and keeping individuals moving. But that's not why we're here. This series of blogs is covering the subject of nutrition so let's get to the point. When you hear the word sweet do images of cuddly soft baby animals come to mind? Performing a nice gesture or random act of kindness? A person with a heart of gold and cheerful personality? While all of these things are indeed sweet, they too, are not what this blog is about.


The past two posts have been discussing white powdery substances found in food. No, it's not what you're thinking. You may recall them as caffeine and salt. To continue with the same family of crystalline products, this week will cover another one found in practically everything we eat and which is very difficult to avoid. It can create addictions similar to alcohol and nicotine and have just as severe health consequences when, if not paired with exercise, is consumed in large amounts. What is it? Well, if you said sugar you're right!


Like salt, it is necessary in small quantities in the body making it a micronutrient...and let me emphasize MICRO. In many foods (dairy products and fruits, for example) it occurs naturally, in others it is added during the production process, and quite often actually both occur, potentially making it problematic for some individuals. Why? That is the focus so hopefully you will gain a clearer understanding of the importance as well as the risks of this readily available sweetener.


You may remember that the micronutrients known as caffeine and salt had different names when found on nutrition labels. Sugar is no different, however, it has substantially more aka's than both of those put together. This blog will cover not only it's most common form, but the many ways it shows up in food products we, as consumers, buy every day. First off, let's start with its most familiar name, sugar. It is used to sweeten many items: baked goods, candy, coffee, dairy products such as ice cream and yogurt, fruit juices and spreads, protein shakes, salad dressings, sauces and soft drinks to list just a few. Simple sugars are known as monosaccharides and include, glucose, fructose and galactose.


Glucose is vital to our brain health. The neurons (nerve cells) that send impulses and messages to our cerebellum do not store energy and, therefore, need a constant supply of glucose. Muscle tissue also requires glucose to function for extended periods of time. Unlike our brain, they can store glucose and use it when necessary. Because it is used as a primary energy source, it is used fairly quickly during bouts of rigorous exercise. Eating healthy snacks and well balanced meals provides plenty of glucose to get through the most stressful day or intense workouts.


Fructose is found primarily in fruits and in smaller quantities in cane sugar, honey, sugar beets (hence their name), and vegetables. Each gram accounts for four calories so while many doctors and fitness experts recommend adding more fruits and veggies to patients/clients diets, although extremely rare, there is a point where even these can be overdone and present complications. Being found in vegetables, especially fibrous ones, means it is not as readily absorbed or metabolized by the body as efficiently or quickly as glucose so again there are a few times it is found in excess in the liver.

Products containing high fructose corn syrup are extremely damaging because they increase appetites, cause weight gain which can lead to diabetes, and trigger the production of triglycerides (cholesterol). They bypass the intestine and head directly to the liver where they are stored as fat. In some countries outside the United States, high fructose corn syrup is banned from foods. Thus, avoid consuming these in your diet as much as possible.


Avocados, guar gum and sugar beets contain a sugar called galactose. It is different from the other monosaccharides in that it is synthesized by the body from lactose typically found in dairy products. Just like glucose, galactose provides the body with an additional source of energy. According to a 2016 study, galactose was given to individuals to assist in the treatment of Hepatic cancer, Hepatitis C, Macular Odema, and Wilson's Disease. While it didn't necessarily cure these ailments, it did slow their progression and/or reduce symptoms.


Now that we have reviewed Nutition 101 and re-established a basic knowledge of plain table sugar, we'll move on to those as widely used but potentially less beneficial to overall well-being. You see these on the backs of cans of diet sodas or offered as a low calorie sugar substitute at many fine dining establishments. The question is are they better for you than the sugars listed above? Guess there's no time like the present to find out. They appear in blue, pink, white and/or yellow packages and have fancy titles but do we really know what we are dumping in our coffee?


Aspartame is manufactured under names like Equal and NutraSweet. This is a man made sweetener containing two amino acids and is marketed as low in calories. You may see it in products like diet soft drinks, however, just because it is low calorie doesn't mean it's healthy. Studies done by the FDA confirm it's safety, but there have been side effects such as dizziness or mood swings reported after consuming it which may or may not be linked to this sugar substitute. If you have a sensitivity to the amino acid phenylalanine because of a metabolic disorder, it is not recommended to ingest products with aspartame. A bit of trivia here: a single gram of aspartame has the same caloric content as plain sugar, but since it is 180x sweeter, you can use less to achieve the same results.


Saccharin (or Sweet N Low) was discovered in 1879 and is the earliest known artificial sweetener. It can be found in baked goods, fruit juice, processed foods and soda pop. In the 1970s, studies of this substance showed it contributed to bladder cancer in rats so was labeled as a carcinogen, but the FDA later deemed the results were not the same in humans and removed it from the list in 2000. Fun fact: it is 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar.


Sucralose, more commonly known as Splenda, is a unique sweetener because it doesn't get broken down in the digestive tract. It passes through the body intact. This substance is the best one if you do a lot of baking but don't want the "empty" calories normal sugar has. This is due to it being a more stable ingredient under high temperatures like those found in a conventional oven. Additionally, you can find sucralose in things like iced tea, power bars, protein shakes, sauces and syrup. How sweet is it you ask...well 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar. Now that's sweet!


Stevia is a natural sugar substitute. As of this posting, its whole leaf and crude extract forms have yet to be approved by the FDA. Their derivatives Stevia in the Raw and Sweetleaf, however, have been recognized as safe. Like saccharin, it is 300 times sweeter than crystalline sugar. Seems pretty crazy but trust me, the best is yet to come!


Xylitol and erythritol, as their endings suggest, are sugar alcohols. Typically you will see these on labels of candy, chewing gum, cough syrup, jams and jellies, mouthwashes and toothpaste. Not much research has been done so far to determine their safety in humans, but if the FDA felt they caused harm, they would not allow retailers to sell them. Any pet owners out there beware...both of these are poisonous to dogs. Use a veterinarian approved toothpaste when brushing your four legged family members teeth.


One with which you probably aren't too familiar is that of Neotame, a chemical spin-off of aspartame. This is found in the same products as its cousin but also in cosmetics like lip balms/glosses and dairy products. For those that absolutely need to satisfy a sweet tooth, Neotame is 7-13,000× sweeter than sugar alone. Talk about a sugar rush!


The newest artificial sweetener to hit the market is Advantame. If you thought Neotame was sweet...wait for it...this one registers high on the Richter scale at 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. Wow! Imagine the crash when this stuff wears off! Chemically speaking, it is similar to aspartame and neotame and is used in frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins, processed fruits, puddings, and whipped toppings like Cool Whip. Recent studies have shown there is a possibility of it delaying fetal development and increasing chances of toxicity in immune, nervous and reproductive systems. Despite these potentially catastrophic conditions, the FDA did render it a seal of approval in 2014.


Roses are red, violets are blue; how sweet it is to be addicted to you. Americans love for all things sweet has become a scientists' dream come true, and the obsession with weight has led many large manufacturing companies to meet the demands of consumers. While sugar is a necessary part of the human diet as many of our organs and tissues need it to function, our "sweet" spot has become much more diverse as new "healthy" products arrive to satisfy our taste buds. Whether you prefer a more traditional flavor or one more robust, there is something for everyone when it comes to sugar.


Empty calories from refined sugars are something most people try to avoid, but at what cost? When they appear in so many different forms, how is that possible? Actually it isn't. Remember, if it looks like sugar and tastes like sugar, it must be sugar whether it occurs naturally or is man made. Also keep in mind that it is hidden in lots of food so just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. Out of sight, out of mind is not just a saying, it is a reality for many of us. So go ahead and satisfy your sweet tooth (in moderation of course) but follow it up by getting up, getting out and getting moving. Until we meet again...


What is your favorite sugary treat?

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