I know it is advisable to limit sugar intake, but I've never heard a guideline of what a reasonable amount per day would be. Can you provide some guidance? -- Anne Halkedis

Your own response to sugar is the best test of how much you can handle. In some people, sugar triggers mood swings -- it brings on a rush of energy followed later by a "crash" into lethargy and depression. Others don't get the rush; they just feel groggy and sleepy after consuming sugar. And, of course, some people don't notice any physical or mental effects at all.

In general, sugar is bad for the teeth (because it contributes to cavities). More specifically, diets high in sugar may predispose some people, especially women, to yeast infections, may aggravate some kinds of arthritis and asthma and may raise triglyceride levels. In people genetically programmed to develop insulin resistance, high-sugar diets may drive obesity and high blood pressure and increase risks of developing Type-2 (adult onset) diabetes. Although conventional medical studies haven't shown that sugar causes hyperactivity in children, many parents are convinced that sugar does have that effect and that limiting sugar intake improves kids' behavior and attention.

I recommend cutting down or eliminating sugar if you experience mood swings or fluctuating energy levels, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or have frequent vaginal yeast infections. You may notice an improvement in your moods, a lessening of your arthritis symptoms and the frequency of yeast infections when you reduce or eliminate the sugar in your diet.

If you have no particular health or mood problem related to your sugar intake, consider the type of sweets you typically consume. Ice cream, candy, pastries and other foods are unhealthy choices because they are high in fat as well as high in sugar. Rather than switching to artificial sweeteners, which have greater health risks, I suggest trying to satisfy your sweet tooth with such natural fat-free treats as dried fruit, hard candy, fruit ices (sorbets or water ices) or -- my personal favorite -- bites of pure maple sugar.

Dr. Andrew Weil

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