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Sugar: It IS a Big Deal

February 20th, 2020 | by Pamela Simon | Comments Off on Sugar: It IS a Big Deal

Sugar: It Is a Big Deal!


Hi there,

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, and all the chocolate goodies have been eaten, I want to get back to talking about sugar. My whole goal is to provide information so you can make the best decision for your health. So, with that in mind, “Please don’t shoot the messenger!”

In my previous post, Sugar: What’s The Big Deal?” I explained just how much we’ve increased our intake of sugar as a nation, the unlikely sources that contain high amounts of sugar, the alternative names of sugar and how to read labels to decipher just how much sugar you’re really eating.

This week I’ll cover the difference between natural and chemical sugars and their impact on your immune system, as well as the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load (very important, especially for individuals with diabetes). Plus, I’ll give my recommendations for what sugars are the best to use on a regular basis.

Let’s start with the question I get asked the most: “Is any sugar good for you?”

This is sort of a trick question! The truth is our body does need glucose for energy. However, glucose in its purest form, is not to be mistaken for the sugar products that we consume. All sugar (or byproduct of sugar) contains glucose, only not in its simple form. Which means our body must break it down to be able to digest it and use it properly. This is why the type of sugar you consume is so important- I’ll go into more detail when I discuss the various forms of sugar.

So, the real question becomes, how much glucose does our body need?

Before I can answer this I need to explain the role of blood sugar and its impact on every cell in our anatomy.

As I mentioned above, glucose is needed to provide energy to our cells. Once glucose is in our blood stream it’s up to insulin- a hormone produced by the pancreas- to carry the glucose to our cells for use.

For people who live with diabetes, their cells become resistant to the action of insulin and the pancreas is unable to make enough, or any, insulin to overcome that resistance.

Since each person’s lifestyle and cells are unique, the amount of glucose and insulin a person needs can vary a great deal. So unfortunately, there isn’t one answer that I can give that would pertain to everyone.

But one thing is true for everyone: too much sugar is not good for anyone.

What happens when the body ingests too much sugar? Well, we know the liver produces glucose and has the ability to store excess glucose for later use. But if you’re consuming large amounts of food that break down into glucose, then the excess will never be used for energy because there is simply too much!

The liver will then convert excess glucose into fat, YIKES!

Now if you remember from the prior post about sugar, we as a nation are consuming about four to five times the recommended daily amount of sugar. So, it’s no wonder obesity has increased greatly over the last few decades! The manufacturers may have taken out the fat in the eighties, but they added in a whole bunch of sugar.

While most of the focus with increased sugar is on weight gain, there have been a few studies performed by the American Heart Association that indicate an increase in sugar can also lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease (CHD).

One study completed in 2012 concluded the following: “The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased risk of CHD and some adverse changes in lipids, inflammatory factors, and leptin.”

In addition to sugar impacting your heart, a diet that consists of too much sugar will have a negative impact on your gut flora. In a previous post, “Trust your gut,” I explain that bad bacteria loves sugar and a diet high in sugar will allow for the bad bacteria in your gut to overtake the good bacteria. This can leave you with a weakened immune system among many other issues stated in that post.

That’s just the physical impact of excess sugar. But what about its impact on our mental health?

In a previous post, “Living with Anxiety,” I mentioned that according to Psychology Today the so-called Standard American Diet, which is full of sugar and fat, does not necessarily cause anxiety but it does appear to worsen anxiety symptoms and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress.

With all these scary statistics you might be wondering: “What in the world can I eat!”

The good news is there are many foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruits, some vegetables and whole grains that are actually beneficial for you. The key is in understanding how the body digests the various forms of sugar and deciphering between the glycemic index and glycemic load.

Glycemic Index (GI) measures the effect of carbohydrates (aka sugars) on blood sugar levels, also known as glucose. The GI is a measurement that can show how rapidly glucose is released by the particular foods you eat.

Glycemic Load (GL) focuses on the quality (simple vs. complex) and quantity of the carbohydrate. Foods that contain other beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, tend to reduce the GL.

Ranges for Glycemic Index are as follows:

  • A GI that is less than or equal to 55 is low.
  • A GI that is between 56 and 69 is medium.
  • A GI that is equal to or great than 70 is high.

Ranges for Glycemic Load are as follows:

  • A GL that is less than or equal to 10 is low.
  • A GL that is between 11 and 19 is medium.
  • A GL that is greater than or equal to 20 is high.


Both measurements need to be taken into consideration, but from a nutritional aspect the glycemic load provides a more accurate depiction of how the body digests and releases the glucose into the system.


If people rely strictly on the glycemic index they will potentially eliminate beneficial foods, such as certain fruits, from their diet. For example, 120 grams of watermelon has a high glycemic index of 72 but its glycemic load is 4, mostly because of its high water content.

So what about using substitute sweeteners?


Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame, neotame and sucralose are currently approved by the FDA and used in many foods and beverages. However, even though they’re approved, I certainly wouldn’t recommend drinking or eating any products that contain these synthetic sweeteners.

There have been multiple studies to support limiting or even eliminating the consumption of products that use artificial sweeteners. In one publication by Harvard Health, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, expressed worry about artificial sweeteners and here’s why:

  • Studies performed by the FDA to allow the use of substitute sweeteners used small control groups consuming amounts less than the average person consumes today. In addition, they haven’t performed any studies with respect to long-term consumption.


  • In 2008 a Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, showed a daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.


  • Referencing another article in Harvard Health Publications, Dr. Ludwig claims artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain. Participants in a San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda.


So what sugar is acceptable?

  • Fruits are nature’s perfect source of energy. Plus, they contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are beneficial for your health.


  • Dates: cooking with dates is a wonderful way to sweeten smoothies, breads, cookies, etc.


  • Real maple syrup. I’m not talking about Aunt Jemima! Real maple syrup contains beneficial vitamins and minerals.


  • Coconut nectar derived from coconuts is one of Mother Nature’s best kept secrets, but it’s gaining notoriety as more people turn to it.


  • Stevia, a natural zero calorie sweetener, is another option, but I use this one sparingly.


When in doubt, choose a product made from a “whole” food source, such as fruits and vegetables.

And for all you chocolate lover’s out there: choose dark chocolate that contains a minimum 70% cacao. Raw cacao beans contain highly beneficial antioxidants that help fight free radicals (but that’s a whole other topic!)

However, since there is some sugar in dark chocolate, only eat a small piece. And be sure to find a good hiding spot: I caught George the other night digging in to my stash!

I pray your days are sweet even without sweet treats to eat!

Many blessings,


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