The Food and Drug Administration recently finalized new requirements for nutrition labels effective 2018. The changes are intended to provide consumers with a simpler nutrition breakdown as well as a more accurate portrayal of portion sizes, added sugars and calorie count. These revisions have been met with mixed reactions, especially from the sugar industry. So the question is, how bad is sugar for you, really?
Sugar is a simple combination of the molecules fructose and glucose. When sugar is digested in the intestine, it is broken down into its parts. Glucose can be digested by any of the body’s cells, whereas fructose is metabolized almost exclusively by the liver. Surprisingly enough, the sugar added to processed food – such as high fructose corn syrup – is composed of the same two molecules, just in slightly different concentrations. The same is true for so-called “natural” sweeteners. So what is the issue?
The majority of experts agree that there is no real difference between table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. The issue with added sugar has more to do with quantity than with composition. One bottle of Pepsi contains approximately the same amount of sugar as three apples, and none of the fiber. The way foods containing added sugar are packaged allows for rapid sugar consumption not typically found in food items with naturally occurring sugar.
Sugar in moderation is not a problem for the majority of people, but ingesting excessive sugar can seriously impact health. Weight gain is the most common problem associated with sugar, likely due to fructose. The liver is nearly entirely responsible for metabolizing fructose, and the liver is known for converting fructose to fat. A more detailed account of how sugar impacts the body can be found here.