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The Sugar Factor

Sugar Cubes in The Sugar Factor

Why We Love Sugar

Back when man had to hunt for food, sugar - usually in the form of honey - was a highly prized commodity. A sweet taste told a man a food was safe and edible, while bitter-tasting food signaled dangerous or poisonous substances.

In fact, our bodies are genetically programmed to like sweet foods. Scientists recently discovered a specific sweet taste receptor unique to humans and even a gene for sweets.

Infants are born with a liking for all things sweet, and despite the misconception that sugar makes kids "hyper", its effect on serotonin levels in the brain actually produces a calming effect. And apparently, that teaspoon of sugar does more than just make the medicine go down; studies now show that it also acts as a pain-reliever in infants.

Children like sweets of higher intensity than adults. As we mature into adults, how much we eat and the intensity of sweetness we like varies depending on our age, ethnic background and life experiences.

Sugar Cravings

When you crave sweets - cookies, cake, candy - could mean you are withdrawing from processed sugar and are missing that "sugar high". However, it can also mean you might be legitimately craving carbohydrates because you have under-eaten and need some glucose. In either case, try eating plenty of fresh, whole fruit when a sweet craving hits. Fresh fruit will satisfy the cravings and give your bloodstream needed glucose.

Are You a Sugar Addict?

Actually, that question is a bit misleading, because a person cannot literally become psysiologically addicted to sugar. We can get intense cravings for something sweet, but those are not physiologically based. A craving for sweets, say experts, is more the result of conditioning based on cultural, social and individual cues.

The key to managing sugary foods, like most things, is to not over do it. Monitoring when and why you eat sweets can help control your cravings and let you gradually decrease your intake. And then you just may enjoy the sweets you do eat that much more.

Taming Your Sweetness Gene

It helps to know where your sugar is coming from. Pay attention to what you eat; added sugar shouldn't contribute as much as sugar from natural sources. if it does, here's how to strike a better balance:

Sugar Canister

  • Read labels. Choose foods with the least amount of sugar (four grams of sugar is about one teaspoon).
  • Watch out for sugar in unexpected places such as peanut butter, salad dressings, condiments and deli meats.
  • Choose water or unsweetened drinks over regular soft drinks. Limit juice to one or two half-cup servings a day.
  • Scour labels for sugar aliases. Look for: Beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maltodextrin, molasses, sucrose and turbinado sugar.
  • Don't eat sweets when you're hungry. Instead, enjoy them as after-dinner treats (think old-fashioned dessert) to savor and enjoy in small amounts when you're less likely to over indulge.
  • Don't deny yourself. Instead of resisting, downsize. Take half the amount you normally would so you won't feel deprived.

Sweet Substitutions

Sugar adds sweetness, tenderness and color to foods. But if you are watching your sugar intake, you do have other options. Keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Take advantage of the natural sweetness in fruit. Try using fruit juice, frozen juice concentrate and reduced-sugar jams and spreads in place of sugar in recipes.
  • You may be able to reduce the sugar by a third in some recipes for baked goods without significantly changing the taste and texture. Do a little experimenting and see if your family can tell the difference.
  • To enhance flavor, use spices like cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg and mace. Also consider extracts, such as vanilla and almond, to add more flavors.

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