Sugar: Our brains can’t function without it, yet it’s considered a dietary evil.

Should sugar be avoided like the devil, or is it OK to have plenty of it as long as it’s in the form of fruit sugar (fructose)? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?

Some sugar nutrition facts to ponder.

A nutritional paradox, sugar is vital for all life on Earth, supplying every muscle, organ and cell in our body, while simultaneously being blamed for the obesity and diabetes onslaught in this country.

Is sugar culpable in bloating the health care system, feasting on nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy?

Perhaps Dr. Andrew Weil says it best on his website: “The problem with … sugar is not that [it is] ‘bad’ for you, but that we eat far too much of [it].”

No doubt nearly every nutritionist on this planet feels the same as Weil. The American Heart Association has the facts to prove it. The AHA recommends no more than 9 teaspoons a day of sugar per day for men (equal to 150 calories, or about a little more than a can of regular soda) and 6 for women (100 calories).

The average daily sugar consumption for an American: 22 teaspoons (330 calories, yikes!)

Consuming 330 calories a day, equals 2,130 calories per week, equals 9,240 calories per month. Trying to lose weight, specifically body fat? Consider that there are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. Doing the math, this is an excess of almost two pounds per month.

Gaining two pounds of body fat a month leaves you 24 pounds heavier in a year. It’s easy to see how the battle of the bulge is lost.

What about alternative sweeteners? Are they healthier?
What if people switched from white table sugar to one of the following alternative sweeteners:

  • Agave nectar
  • Molasses
  • Raw organic honey
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Brown sugar (raw)
The two biggest advantages of alternative sweeteners is that they contain trace minerals (calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and potassium) that aren’t found in white table sugar.

Some sweeteners also have a lower glycemic index (GI) rating than regular sugar, thus potentially raising blood sugar levels less quickly than white table sugar. High blood sugar levels may contribute to diabetes and other health problems.

For example, agave nectar has a glycemic index of only 30 compared to the simplest broken-down sugar known to man and the chemical compound that fuels our brain: glucose, which has a GI rating of 100.

Honey averages 55 on the GI scale; fructose averages about 20; lactose (milk sugar) checks in at 46 and sucrose (common table sugar; a combo of fructose and glucose) has a GI of 68.

If fructose has a lower GI, should I eat a fruit salad for dessert?

As Weil mentioned above, sugar is sugar and too much of it may cause you to gain weight, not to mention the damage to your teeth. Despite some sweeteners eliciting stronger, more effective insulin releases to help regulate sugar’s distribution in the bloodstream, all sugars are pure carbohydrate and contain mostly empty calories, with the exception of the trace minerals in alternative sweeteners and fruit.

But eating too much fruit at one time can cause both indigestion (including the embarrassing kind) and can cause blood sugar levels to crash below normal levels.

The bloodstream can only circulate so much glucose before the sugar gets processed by the liver and stored as body fat.

What about zero calorie sweeteners?

Most health experts recommend natural, plant-based sweeteners like xylitol; another recommendation by many natural health practitioners is to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

The American Cancer Society, however, claims that aspartame does not cause cancer and is safe for consumption.

The bottom line: if you’re trying to watch your weight, limit your intake of all sugars. If you have a sweet tooth, opt for small amounts of stronger-flavored alternative sweeteners that have lower GI loads. To keep blood sugar levels down, always eat some natural fat and protein either before or with a sweet food.

Got any sugar nutrition facts you’d like to share? Tell us below.

Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.