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Sugar Myths -- A Trick or Treat?

Does sugar cause diabetes? Trigger hypoglycemia? Make you fat? Cause hyperactivity? If you thought yes, think again!

Sugars really have no direct relationship to any health problem except for their role in tooth decay. After careful review of scientific studies, that's the conclusion of nutrition and health experts. However, sugar myths are still widespread. Here's the real scoop on four common misconceptions about sugar.

Causes diabetes

About 20 years ago, scientists debunked this myth. But, many still believe sugar causes diabetes. In diabetes, the body can't use sugar normally. And the causes are complex and are yet to be fully known. Genetics play a role, but illness, obesity or simply getting older also may trigger diabetes.

Diet is part of the strategy to manage diabetes--although diet does not cause diabetes--along with physical activity and perhaps medication. In the past, people with diabetes were warned to avoid or strictly limit sugar in their food choices. Today, experts recognize that sugars and starches have similar effects on blood sugar levels. The amount of carbohydrate, not the source, is the issue for people with diabetes.

Moderate amounts of sugar can be part of a well-balanced diet for people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you have diabetes, a registered dietitian can help plan and monitor your diet.

Makes you fat

Eating too many calories causes your body to produce extra pounds of body fat--not sugar! Over time, too many calories from any source, whether it's carbohydrate, fat or protein, can lead to weight gain. And eating sweets doesn't stimulate your appetite for more.

Often times, we think people with weight problems have a "sweeter tooth." However, nutrition experts say they may actually eat less sugar, but more fat. If you are watching your calories, including some sweet flavors can make a low-calorie diet more appealing. But remember, it's wise to control all calories when making food choices.

Linked to hyperactivity

Kids may be "wired up" after an afternoon of sweet snacks, friends and active play, but don't blame the candy, cakes or sweet drinks! There is no scientific evidence to support a link between sugar intake and hyperactivity or attention deficit-hyperactive disorder.

Pay attention to your child's overall environment. The excitement of a party or special event--trick-or-treating or a visit to Santa--may be the reason for unruly behavior and not the sweet snacks.

Triggers hypoglycemia

It's highly unlikely and hypoglycemic disorders, often self-diagnosed, are quite rare. Many people associate anxiety, headaches and chronic fatigue with hypoglycemia caused by eating foods with sugar. Hypoglycemia is actually a condition--not a disease. If you think you're among those rare cases and you have symptoms, talk to your physician about a medical check-up and blood glucose testing.

The final say

Sugars, starches and fiber are in the nutrient category called carbohydrates and are your body's main source of fuel. Some sugars occur in food naturally, while others are added. Regardless of the source, your body can't tell the difference.

If your energy needs are low, go easy on the amount of sugars you consume, as well as the amount of fat. Try consuming mostly nutrient-dense foods which provide other nutrients besides sugar or fat.

Sugars, in moderation, are part of a healthful diet. Naturally-occurring or added sugars can make nutritious foods more appealing by adding taste, aroma, texture and color.

* Information provided from The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide.

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