A Sugar-Crazed Nation: Are You At Risk?

A Sugar-Crazed Nation: Are You At Risk?
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A Sugar-Crazed Nation: Are You At Risk?

It's no surprise that we live in a sugar-crazed nation, and it's crucial to know how we can begin to undo the damage done. Is sugar really a poison? Are there specific types that may be potentially detrimental to our bodies?

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Two Basic Categories of Sugar

First, let's better understand the situation. There are naturally occurring sugars and added sugar. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits, veggies and some dairy. Added sugars are found in tons of processed foods and in places we least expect, such as crackers and salad dressings.

Fact: Did you know excess added sugars in your diet can attribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Added sugars can cause fat buildup in the liver, an essential organ responsible for fat digestion and detoxification.

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Recommended Daily Intake

According to Livestrong.com and the American Heart Association, men should limit their daily intake of sugar to 36 grams, the equivalent of nine teaspoons. Women should limit their intake to 24 grams, the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar.

Fact: The average American consumes 21 teaspoons of sugar, the equivalent of 84 grams, on a daily basis.

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Natural vs. Refined

First, all sugar is somewhat natural, but the processing is different for different types of sugars. Natural sugars, such as sugar in the raw, are a bit less refined than white sugar. Sugar in the raw has a slightly brownish hue, which comes from the molasses used to make the sugar. Many people attribute more health benefits to this sugar, when the truth is, our bodies can't detect the difference when metabolizing.

Fact: You may want to move organic sugar higher up on your priority list. Organic sugar is produced without synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

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Nectars & Honey

As of late, nectars such as agave nectar, particularly popular in countries such as Japan, have become a more popular "healthy" choice. However, going "au naturale" with your sweetener may not be all it's cracked-up to be. Agave nectar's main ingredient, fructose, is worse for your liver to digest than most alternative sugars. Raw honey, on the other hand, has some traceable nutrients, but still packs a punch when it comes to calories.

Fact: One raw tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories. Raw honey is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

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Stevia, an herb hailing from South America, has become more widespread with the rise of zero-calorie sweeteners. Stevia, served in powder, liquid or leaf form, can vary in taste. Known to have a more liquorice-like piquancy, the powder form is preferable to many. It is often cut with maltodextrin or inulin fiber to make its consistency more comparable to regular sugar.

Fact: Like many other sugars, whether dubbed "natural" or not, Stevia undergoes chemical processing during the extraction process. Many argue that because of this, Stevia is not as natural an additive as we believe.

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Artificial Sweeteners

For decades, there has been controversy surrounding the usage of artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin. Some believe that they (aspartme, sucralose, D-Tagatose and acesulfame) contribute to fatal diseases such as cancer, while others deem them perfectly safe.

When it was tested in the 1970s, saccharin proved to contribute to various forms of cancer (bladder, uterus, ovaries and skin, to name a few). Further results in the 1990s showed that saccharin contributed to bladder cancer in male rats, but later, evidence surfaced that male rats had a predisposition to bladder cancer.

Fact: Artificial sweeteners can cause side effects such as headaches, bloating and mild to severe diarrhea.

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What to Look For & Understand

Given the facts, choose the sugar that is best for you. While brown sugar and sugar in the raw may be less refined, they still pack calories. While zero-calorie artificial sweeteners may help you lose weight, they may also trigger harmful side effects. Stevia, nectars and honey derive from a more natural source, and also have beneficial mineral and vitamin properties. The downside? Fructose found items such as agave nectar are more difficult for your liver to process.

Artificial sweeteners (including Stevia) will not cause tooth decay or have an effect on blood sugar levels. They can be helpful to those who have or are at risk for diabetes.

Fact: Foods labeled "no sugar added" or "sugar-free" usually contain artificial sweeteners. Additionally, always look at the first few ingredients listed on a food product label to determine what types of sugar have been used (high fructose syrup, corn syrup, etc.).

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For more on Food and Lifestyle visit AOL.com

Is sugar healthy for you? Are certain types of sugar better for you than others?

The standard American diet is filled with sugar; on average, we consume a whopping 22 teaspoons per day (32 for children). That's anywhere from 16 to 26 teaspoons too much! In order to make the most educated and rational decisions about our diet, it's important to understand the options at hand.

We've compiled the ultimate guide to buying sugar. Check out our slideshow above to help you get started!

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