Christmas cookies, gingerbread, holiday pudding—you try hard, but you just can't escape it: sugar seems to be in everything we consume. But how much do you know about this sneaky substance?
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, but are natural substitutes like honey and agave healthier?
"It still has the same effect on your body," warned Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic .
All added sugars increase inflammation in your blood vessels and up the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
What do you think: does most of the sugar we eat come from sweet foods? Nope, soda is the biggest culprit. One-third of all added sugars come from sweetened drinks. Other hidden sugars are found in condiments like barbeque sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings.
So do you think sugar can make you look old? Yes, sugar actually changes the structure of collagen in your skin.
Here's another one: does sugar increase your risk of cancer? Swedish researchers found those who ate a sugar-heavy diet were 70 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
But, are artificial sweeteners a good alternative? Yes and no. While they can help reduce your sugar intake, some studies have shown these substitutes may actually cause you to crave more sugar.
"You really want to get used to having things less sweet. I'd say no more than about a teaspoon or two a day," Jamieson-Petonic said.
Here's a way to reduce your craving for sugar: Take 200 micrograms of chromium once a day at the start of any meal. Chromium plays an important role in insulin's regulation of blood sugar and energy production. This simple measure could prevent sugar surges that often leave you craving more later on. But before you start taking it, experts say talk to your doctor first.
It's difficult to know exactly where sugar originated, but it's believed to have first been used around 5,000 years ago in the Polynesian Islands. It then spread to coastal India, where it didn't spread again until 510 BC when India was conquered by the Persian Empire. It then spread as these areas were conquered by the Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. The Arabs took it to the Iberian Peninsula, where Columbus brought the sugar cane plant to the West Indies. There it flourished under the hot sun and in the wet, fertile soil. It was the growth in the West Indies, and the subsequent slave trade which was established to tend the crop, that made sugar the dominate way to sweeten food around the world. (Source: sugarnutrition.org.uk/history-of-sugar.aspx)
Artificial Sugars: Sugar is the byproduct of one of two plants: sugar cane and sugar beets. But the first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was actually a mistake: in the 1870s, two Johns Hopkins University researchers were researching coal tar derivatives, and one of the researchers found out saccharin was sweet when he touched the tip of his cigarette to the substance and tasted it. It was already being used as a substitute for sugar by the late 1800s, and companies flocked to using it because it was so much cheaper than actual sugar. Since then, other sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose have become as popular and widespread as real sugar. (Sources: uncpress.unc.edu/browse/page/694, mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/complete-guide-to-sugar-and-sugar-substitutes)
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