By Melissa Heires, Central Michigan University Dietetic Student
What exactly is sugar and where does it come from?
Sugar is a form of a simple carbohydrate or a simple form of energy. Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are in forms of processed foods and refined sugars. Examples would be table sugar, packaged cakes, and soda. Baked products like white bread, cookies, and muffins are also examples of simple carbohydrates. Most simple carbohydrates have little nutritional value. These carbohydrates are digested by the body quickly. Since they are digested quickly, blood sugar and insulin levels will elevate quite fast. Complex carbohydrates are found naturally in foods like vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Foods made of complex carbohydrates tend to have necessary nutrients like fiber and protein as well as lower amounts of sugar. Fiber and protein digest slowly by the body. Having these nutrients digest slowly combats the fast digestion of sugars. Therefore, blood sugar and insulin levels will not spike dramatically.
All green plants make some amount of sugar. Plants make sugar for quick energy, so they are capable of making other structures such as fruits or vegetables. If sugar is organically made from plants and is necessary for plants, then why shouldn’t we consume large amounts of it?
Sugar by itself does not cause weight gain. Weight gain is caused from consuming more calories than you use. If you were to eat 100 calories of sugar or 100 calories of broccoli, you would still be eating 100 calories. The calories in sugar themselves do not cause weight gain. So, if sugar does not cause you to gain weight, then why is sugar harmful?
Sugar has no nutritional benefit. Consuming a diet that is full of sugar can cause nutritional deficiencies. It has been proven that sugar irritates the lining of the digestive organs and digestive tract. When the digestive tract is irritated, it may not allow proper absorption of valuable nutrients such as vitamin C. Sugar can prevent vitamin C from attaching or absorbing into the body’s cells.
The American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day, and women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) of added sugar per day. For reference, a can of soda has 39 grams of added sugar.
A diet high in sugar can lead to chronic inflammation. The body naturally creates inflammation when it is healing or under stress. However, too much inflammation can cause more harm than good. Sugar stimulates the production of free fatty acids in the liver. These acids trigger inflammation when they are sent through the body, which can lead to body pain, mood disorders, fatigue, digestive issues, and frequent infections. People who have chronic inflammation are also at higher risk of diabetes, depression, and dementia.
Over consumption of sugar can create a dependency. Sugar is a very addictive substance because it affects the reward center of the brain. As a simple carbohydrate, it will digest quickly causing energy levels to spike, then just as quickly cause energy levels to drop, creating a need for more “reward” after the initial spike has dropped. Similar to a drug addict coming off a high, sugar creates a need for the next dose. This habit causes the body to want more and more. Soon, higher amounts of sugar are needed to create that same energy spike.
The key to enjoying a sweet treat is enjoying it in moderation. Over consumption can cause negative health effects as discussed. Nutritional deficiencies, chronic inflammation, and substance dependency are just a few examples. Limiting sugar can be a small task that can promote better health. Finding little substitutes to favorite sugary treats can make big differences. Small substitutions can include trading candy bars for fruit, using whole wheat flour in place of white flour, and switching soda for lemon water. Satisfying the sugar craving and adding nutrition the body requires. Desserts don’t have to be packed with sugar to be pleasing. Here is a recipe that is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth!
Sugar Free Strawberry Pretzel Salad
- Cups pretzels crushed (about 4 cups before crushing)
- 3/4 cup salted butter melted
- 3 tablespoons Stevia In The Raw
- 8 ounces low fat cream cheese
- 3/4 cup Stevia In The Raw
- 8 ounces sugar free whipped topping
- 6 ounces sugar free strawberry gelatin mix (2 packages)
- 2 cups boiling water
- 14 ounces frozen strawberries with no sugar added
- 8 ounce can crushed pineapple in 100% juice, drained
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Mix together the melted butter, crushed pretzels, and 3 tablespoons stevia in a medium sized bowl. Pour the pretzel mixture into the baking dish and press down firmly to create a flat, thin layer.
- Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes and then remove from the oven and allow to fully cool.
- Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and 3/4 cup stevia. Stir in the whipped topping until smooth.
- Pour the cream cheese mixture over the pretzel crust and use a spoon or offset spatula to make a smooth layer. Place in the fridge to cool for 30-60 minutes.
- Boil the water in a small saucepan. Once boiling, turn off the heat and stir in the gelatin mix. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the frozen strawberries and crushed pineapple.
- Pour the strawberry mixture over the cream cheese layer and place back in the fridge for 6-8 hours or until the gelatin is fully firmed.
- Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and sliced strawberries!
- Enjoy! Recipe source: https://www.thecookierookie.com/strawberry-pretzel-salad-sugar-free/
About the Author
Melissa Heires is a Central Michigan University Dietetic Student and Senior Services Nutrition Department volunteer studying to become a Registered Dietitian. Welcome Melissa!