Sugar is not a treat Sugar is not a treat
When I grew up candy was something I got on special occasions; holidays, a reward for good behavior, a treat from our once a... Sugar is not a treat

When I grew up candy was something I got on special occasions; holidays, a reward for good behavior, a treat from our once a week grocery store shopping, but never anything that I had access to on a daily basis.

Today there are candy bars at the grocery and many stores and public places have candy and soda machines right at the front door, all very tempting. It seems that food manufacturers are well aware of the studies that show there is a psychological relationship between sugar cravings and a reward response similar to addictive drugs like cocaine. I’ve been guilty of “treating” myself to an ice cream cone or pastry from time to time to reward myself for some accomplishment, but the reality is sugar in any shape or form is not a treat.

Sugar has most commonly been linked to diabetes, but there are many other chronic illnesses associated with a sweet tooth: high blood pressure, inflammation (especially associated with arthritis and joint pain), weight gain and obesity, kidney disease, heart disease, dental problems, depression and even cancer.

One of the biggest problems with sugar is that it is laden with calories that are stored as visceral fat – belly fat that builds up around your organs (pancreas, intestines and liver). It wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we were burning those calories instead of storing them, but most people don’t get enough exercise daily to burn them up. Visceral fat is most commonly associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. Another serious storage area is the liver, which creates a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. According to a 2015 study in, regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increased the risk of fatty liver disease, particularly in overweight and obese individuals, by 56 percent.

If you are suffering from pain caused by chronic inflammatory diseases, then your sugar consumption may be to blame. I have arthritis in my feet caused by a college injury that tore ligaments in both feet. As a result of age and wear and tear on my feet, they hurt from time to time. My podiatrist said there are definitely signs of arthritis. I assumed that arthritis pain would be something I just had to live with for the rest of my life. But wait – not so. There is a natural way to eliminate the pain without medication.

What I have noticed is that when I consume a sugary treat, I have pain in my feet. Otherwise I have no problem. So my decision to eat sweets is directly related to pain. Do I want to limp around all day or walk comfortably? By recognizing the correlation between the two, it makes it easier for me to turn down food and beverages made with processed sugar. Surprisingly, if I eat baked goods made with maple syrup or honey, I don’t have the pain. My body processes the natural sugar differently. But there are still calories involved with natural sugars, so I need to limit the quantity.

If you are concerned that the foods you eat have more sugar in them than what you expected, start reading labels. Begin by looking in the middle of the ingredients list. Foods are listed from high to low in volume. If it is higher on the list there is more of it. Look for words ending in “ose” like dextrose, maltose, and sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and other syrups, dextrin, malts and many more. Avoid products that have sugar listed at the top of the ingredient list, and don’t be fooled by labeling that says “all natural.” Sugar may be hiding by another name. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. Most labels refer to sugar content in grams.

There is a handy app that you can download on your phone called the Change4Life Sugar Swaps app. It can help you identify how much sugar is in a product just by scanning the barcode on the label.

So the next time you want to reward yourself for a job well done, don’t reach for a sweet treat or soda (16 oz. = 13 teaspoons of sugar); take a walk or call a friend instead. Your belly, organs and arteries will be glad you did.