Our taste buds respond positively to the taste of sweet from the moment we are born. And for good reason, sweetness indicates calories and calories are what keep us alive. But that system has been hijacked by the food industry to get us to eat more of their product. Estimates vary between 57 and 156 pounds of added sugar a year for the average American. I’m not sure how the estimates can vary so wildly. But I decided to do some quick math using the lower of the two numbers.  

One pound of sugar = 1,775 calories. 57 pounds a year x 1775 calories = 101,175 calories 

You have to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound, or keep from gaining it if you ingested that many extra calories (recall you can’t outwork a bad diet). All that sugar translates 28.9 pounds of body weight. That is frightening! 

You might wish that data would scare you off of sugar, but it won’t. So let’s talk about where sugar hides and how you can best enjoy a little sweetness in your life.

Where the average person gets all that added sugar

If you are eating ready-to-eat food from a package, in a restaurant, from a deli or anywhere else you can get heat-and-eat food, you can bet it has sweetener in it. Sugar is also lurking in condiments (ketchup, BBQ sauce, regular peanut butter, etc) and places you’d never expect like bread. Do I need to mention candies, cookies, cakes, sodas, sports drinks and fancy coffee? Check the ingredients for names like: natural sweetener, HFCS-90, HFCS-50 (all better known as high fructose corn syrup), anything ending in -tose, sugar, syrup of any kind, evaporated juice, molasses, honey and any of the other 56 ways they hide sugar in processed food. 

But is sugar really that bad?

There is no simple answer to that question. Your body knows how to process sugar and it does turn into energy. So, it’s not “bad” in and of itself. It’s certainly better for you than artificial sweeteners made of chemicals meant to trick your body. 

If you want to sweeten your coffee or your oatmeal with a teaspoon or two of sugar, that’s not going to be a problem. But a pound a week or more? That is simply too much and can damage your metabolism.

Know where you are adding sugar by adding it yourself. Stay away from processed foods that hide your intake.

Is honey better?

Your body can’t tell the difference between sugar and honey. So from your body’s point of view - No, honey isn’t better. Raw, local honey has been shown to possibly help with allergies. However, if you put it in a hot beverage, you kill a lot of the good stuff. If you aren’t buying your honey directly from a bee keeper, you might not be getting honey at all. Sadly many commercially available products labeled “honey” actually are not.  

And of course, honey is not ethically vegan nor is it plant-based (full disclosure – we have honey in the house and I do put it in my tea).

What about maple syrup?

Again, your body can’t tell the difference between maple syrup and sugar. It’s still calories (energy). But in the case of maple syrup, they aren’t completely empty. There are some nutrients in there – as long as you’re getting all-natural maple syrup. Read the ingredients. There are A LOT of products out there claiming to be maple syrup that are actually colored and flavored high fructose corn syrup.

We have natural maple syrup in the house. I use it mostly in recipes. 

Agave or Agave Syrup?

Agave has a lower glycemic index than sugar. At first blush, that seems like it would be a good thing. However, in large amounts it can lead to insulin resistance. For this reason some experts argue that agave is worse than sugar. If you have it in the house, I wouldn’t say this warrants tossing it. But it is not the sweetener of choice we use.

Molasses/Brown Sugar

Molasses is a byproduct of producing sugar and it does have some minerals in it. That’s not to say it’s healthy by any means. It’s just slightly less bad for you than regular sugar. 

Note – brown sugar is regular sugar with some molasses added back to it to make it brown. 

We don’t have molasses or brown sugar in the house.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is processed a little differently than regular sugar. The juice is extracted and the water is evaporated off. It has a tiny bit of fiber, some nutrients and a low glycemic index than sugar. But really, it’s not that much different to your body. Similar to brown sugar, it is slightly less awful for you. But that by no means makes it a health food.

We have never used coconut sugar. I have seen recipes that call for it and wouldn’t be opposed to trying it as some point. 

Bottom Line

It’s not the sugar you add yourself to recipes, your tea or your oatmeal that is the problem (assuming you aren’t using cups of the stuff a day). You body is fully capable of processing a couple of teaspoons of the sweetener of your choice a day. 

It’s the sugars we get that we don’t realize we are eating that are a problem. Read the labels of all packages to educate yourself on where you are getting sugar and how much of it is in your diet.

Have a sugar addiction you can’t break?

Dr Robyn can help. Send an email to health@rnrjourney.com to set up a free 15-minute chat to discuss working with her.

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.