Sugar is found in many products including baked goods, candy, cereal, juice drinks and soft drinks. The recent New York City ban targets perhaps the biggest offender of added sugar in the American diet: soft drinks. The average 20-ounce bottle of soda contains 65g and 240 calories. The American Heart Association recommends the following added sugar intake amounts: adult women: 20 g/day, adult men: 36 g/day and children 12 g/day.
Why is sugar so bad for us? Added sugars are usually in foods or drinks that have little or no nutritional value and high calorie levels. Besides weight gain, our body has a decreased immune system response when we consume sugar, and some studies indicate it negatively affects blood pressure.
When we consume sugar it causes our blood sugar to increase, triggering our pancreas to secrete more insulin to use the sugar as energy. This creates several problems. First, we rarely need the large amount of calories, so our body stores this as fat. Second, the constant sugar/insulin cycle can eventually create a condition known as insulin resistance, which leads to pre-diabetes and possibly, if left uncorrected, diabetes.
Carbohydrates are either “simple” or “complex” based on how quickly our body digests them for energy. A slower release of energy means a greater ability to use those calories. Sugars, fruit juice, white breads, and white flour are simpler, and then come fruits, which do contain natural sugar (fructose) but are digested a bit more slowly due to having more fiber. Next come more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, which further slow the digestive rate (more fiber = slower digestion), beans and lentils are the highest in fiber and the most complex. A general rule of thumb to remember: more natural color = more fiber and more nutrients.