The Relationship Between Sugar, Calories, and Health
Most of my discussions relating to nutrition and good health center around the kinds of foods people should eat. I talk an awful lot about fruits and vegetables as a result. But there is another side to the coin. There are other kinds of foods that we need to control if we do not want them to affect our health adversely. Among them are foods that are high in sugar and empty calories.
For the record, sugar itself is not a dangerous substance that wreaks havoc on human health. In fact, the human body needs a certain amount of it to function properly. We run into problems with sugar in two areas: we consume too much of it, and much of the sugar we consume is refined rather than natural. If we could get a handle on these two things, most of us would see at least some improvement in overall health.
As far as calories are concerned, it is impossible to survive without them. This is why people who diet are constantly reminded by their doctors not to consume fewer than 1,000 calories per day. Our challenge with calories is also two-fold: we tend to consume too many, and a good portion of them are considered ’empty’ calories.
Limiting Sugar Intake
According to NIH News in Health, roughly 15% of the calories in the average American diet come from added sugars. What are added sugars? These are the sugars that are added to food by manufacturers and consumers. Make no mistake; 15% is a relatively high number. For a daily diet consisting of 2,000 calories that would mean 300 just from added sugars alone.
The best way to cut down on sugar intake is to limit foods and beverages with added sugars. That means reducing consumption of soda, sports/energy drinks and, yes, even fruit drinks. It means drinking tea and coffee without added sugar and refraining from putting sugar on things such as oatmeal and toast.
By contrast, eating fresh fruits provides the body with the natural sugars it needs to function properly. Oranges and bananas are very good examples. Canned fruits that are stored in their juices rather than sweetened syrup are also a good alternative.
Staying Away from Empty Calories
Hand-in-hand with limiting sugar intake is avoiding empty calories. Empty calories are defined as calories that provide a quick burst of energy but little or no additional nutritional value. As you might guess, refined sugars fall under this category. Knowing that, let us discuss why empty calories are bad.
Calories provide the energy your body needs to keep working. In an ideal situation, you should be eating food that contains both the caloric energy and the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs. Because empty calories do not provide any other nutritional value, you have to eat other foods to get the necessary nutrients. This ultimately leads to overeating.
People who eat large amounts of empty calories are much more likely to be obese than those who do not. As soon as the energy from those empty calories is burned, the body starts screaming for more because it is lacking essential nutrients. The natural result is to eat more, increasing the risk of obesity.
Obesity is a serious condition that can lead to a long list of other health issues. One of the most helpful things we Americans can do is to get back to a healthier weight. And the best way to do that is to avoid excessive sugar intake and make sure the calories we consume are not empty calories.