Not Too Sweet
Sugar has a host of negative effects on PMS. For one, consuming sugar or sugary foods causes your blood glucose levels to spike and then fall rapidly. This yo-yoing can cause mood swings, headaches, and irritability. Second, consuming too much sugar easily leads to overeating and weight gain: your body feels full when you eat a sugary food, but since sugar is quickly metabolized, you promptly feel hungry again, so you'll probably eat some more. These empty calories add up, as do the pounds, and being overweight is a risk factor for PMS. Third, the more sugary foods in your diet, the less likely there will be room for whole foods. As a result, you miss out on necessary vitamins and nutrients, leading to overall ill health.
A 1991 study of 853 women, published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, found that women with premenstrual syndrome were more likely to consume foods and beverages that are high in sugar or taste sweet than women without PMS. The women also ate more chocolate and drank more alcohol if they had PMS.
Experts suspect excess sugar consumption contributes to diseases such as obesity and diabetes, but the evidence is limited. For example, while there is some evidence that consuming too much sugar leads to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, those findings are not definitive. It is clear, however, that consuming too much sugar leads to dental disease and decay.
How Much Is Too Much?
The U.S. Sugar Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization have each weighed in on how much sugar is too much. In 2003, the World Health Organization published a report recommending that sugar (including sugars naturally present in food, added by cooks or consumers, as well as sugars added to foods by manufacturers) comprise only 10 percent of a healthful diet. But a year earlier, in 2002, the Institute of Medicine (a nonprofit organization that advises policymakers, health-care providers, business, and the public) set the upper limit of sugar consumption at percent. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Sugar Association supports the Institute of Medicine report.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from cornstarch that is added to many foods. It's cheap, tastes sweeter than refined sugar, and blends easily into beverages. In 1966, no one consumed it, but by 2005 Americans consumed 42.2 pounds per year (in contrast, Americans consumed 45.2 pounds per year).
HFCS is used in all sorts of food products, from soft drinks, fruit juices, and sauces to cereals, peanut butter, potato chips, crackers, yogurt, and meat products, like bacon and hot dogs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans 156 pounds of sugar each year (as of 2003). In 1966, that figure was 113 pounds. Soft drinks are the major source of added sugar the diet, accounting for 33 percent of total sugar intake. It’s not to see how that can happen. A sixteen-ounce soft drink alone twelve and one-half teaspoons of sugar!
Deciphering Food Labels
By now, many people know that it is important to read nutrition labels when making food choices. Ingredients are quantity, so if sugar is one of the first few items listed, you know food is high in sugar. But labels don’t always explicitly say sugar; known by multiple terms and a food label for a given food often several different types of sugars as ingredients.
Alternative names for sugar include dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltodextrins, glucose, glucose polymers, sucrose, invert sugar, raw sugar, honey, cane sugar, turbinado sugar, caramelized sugar, distilled or concentrated fruit sugars, maple sugar, barley malt, date sugar, brown sugar, blackstrap molasses, and of, course, highfructose corn syrup.
What about Artificial Sweeteners?
Using artificial sweeteners may not be the answer to your diet dreams. A 2004 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that artificial sweeteners may interfere with the body’s natural ability to count calories based on a food’s sweetness.
After feeding two groups of rats either a mix of sugar-sweetened liquid and artificially sweetened liquid, or a sugar-sweetened liquid alone for ten days, researchers offered the rats a high-calorie chocolate snack. Those that were fed the artificially sweetened liquid ate more of their regular food, even after eating the snack. Researchers say the experience of drinking artificially sweetened, low-calorie liquids had damaged the rats’ natural ability to compensate for the calories in the snack.
Artificial sweeteners can be almost as confusing as the multiple types of sugar. Here’s a primer:
Saccharin: Sweet ‘N Low (300 times as sweet as sugar)
Aspartame: NutraSweet, Equal (160–200 times as sweet sugar)
Acesulfame K: Sunett, Sweet One (200 times as sweet sugar)
Sucralose: Splenda (500–600 times as sweet as sugar)
Neotame: High-intensity sweetener approved by the FDA 2002 but not yet widely used in food products (8,000–13,000 times as sweet as sugar)