Sugar is one of those great treats in life. Sometimes, we just gotta have it, don’t we?
Yet, this wonderful treat that used to be a luxury has now become a national addiction with serious health consequences. Check out this infographic that demonstrates just how over-the-top sugar consumption has become.
Indeed, overconsumption of refined sugar has been linked to all sorts of symptoms and diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, hypoglycemia, depression, headaches, fatigue, nervous tension, aching limbs, diabetes, acne, skin irritations, hardening of the arteries and emotional instability. Research, in fact, has shown that sucrose is just as addictive as cocaine or heroine.
Now it’s important to make a distinction between good sugar and bad sugar here. Ayurvedically-speaking, the Sweet taste is one of six tastes that we should consume on a daily basis. Unfortunately, by Sweet taste, I do not mean cookies and cakes. I mean naturally-sweet foods like dairy, meat, sweet fruits, oils and complex carbohydrates like grains and root vegetables. Ayurveda teaches that the Sweet taste in these foods nourishes and invigorates the mind, relieves hunger and thirst, increases tissue and improves the immune system. Emotionally, eating Sweet foods makes us feel sweeter as this taste is associated with happiness, contentment, calmness, cheerfulness, love and satisfaction when eaten in appropriate amounts.
Sure the good, complex, naturally-occurring sugars still register as sugar on the Daily Values labeling, but they are bundled with so many good things your body needs—like fluid, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—that it would be unhealthy to avoid them. What we really need to avoid is the processed sugar that the body doesn’t understand. According to Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, “Bad sugar” is “the type not added by Mother Nature, the refined stuff that sweetens sodas, candy and baked goods.” The average American eats 22 teaspoons of “bad” sugar each day, the equivalent of a 4-pound sack once every 20 days. This is so much more than our ancestors consumed (check out this historical sugar timeline.)
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
Ayurveda would view even this much extra sugar as excessive. In Ayurvedic terms, “refined sugars are considered both stale and over-stimulating. They are difficult to digest so can create disturbance and waste in the body (known as “Ama” in Ayurveda and considered to be the root cause of all disease). Refined sugars actually aggravate vata and kapha, leading to fluid retention, weight gain, mental agitation or dullness (or both… swinging between the two) and physical exhaustion. They weaken the pancreas and the liver, which in turn can aggravate pitta in the body.” Refined sugars produce the disease-causing agents in the body and mind, simultaneously weakening the entire immune system.
The main difference between the Ayurvedic view and the western view on sugar intake is that Ayurveda acknowledges the differences in the qualities of the sugars. For example, honey is sweet and heating, has the specific effect of ‘scraping fat’ from the body, and it pacifies Vata and Kapha while increasing Pitta. Jaggery is sweet and cooling, has a heavy, strengthening effect on the body, and pacifies Vata while increasing Pitta and Kapha. White sugar, on the other hand, is sweet, heating, and has a stimulating effect on the body, aggravating all of the doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha).
Less processed sugars like jaggery, honey and maple syrup are considered more Sattvic, creating a peaceful effect on our minds. Highly processed sugars, like white sugar and synthetic replacement sweeteners, are Rajasic and Tamasic – creating strong, outward-seeking desire combined with dullness, depression and ignorance in the mind.
Best Sugars for Each Dosha:
Pitta – maltose, maple syrup, rice syrup
Kapha – raw honey, preferably more than 6 months old
Vatas and Pittas need more of the Sweet taste than Kaphas, who should consume some of the Sweet taste daily in very small portions. Diabetics and individuals with excess weight should consume more low-glycemic choices.
In general, try these techniques to help manage your sugar intake in a healthy manner:
- Eat naturally-occurring sugar rather than added sugars
- Check ingredient labels and avoid products with sugar as one of the first three ingredients on the label.
- Cutting back on processed foods and sweets is highly recommended. Foods high in sugars include: soft drinks, fruit juices, candies and sweets, baked goods, fruits canned in syrup, low-fat or diet foods and dried fruits.
- Drink water instead of soda or juices
- Don’t add sugar to your coffee or tea
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.