Sugar’s Impact on Our Health
We hear something new (and different) everyday about the effects of sugar on our health.
And with obesity levels on a constant rise in the US, we all struggle to know what we should and shouldn’t believe.
Many think that having a little sugar here and there isn’t bad because we will burn it off anyway or eat something heathy to make up for it.
What is the truth?
Every bit of sugar you have is bad for you. Once you’ve consumed it, there’s no turning back. The damage is already done. But why? Too much sugar triggers weight gain. Sugar is hard to burn off through exercise and therefore it can lead to weight gain. When you eat sugar, you’re actually forcing your body to store it.
Details: Sugary snacks cause your blood-glucose levels to spike and that stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to process sugar/glucose. All of the cells in your body need glucose for energy. Insulin is the key to allowing the cells to use glucose, as it cannot be directly absorbed from the bloodstream. When you have a spike in blood sugar levels which exceeds your cells’ need for energy, insulin helps to store the excess sugar. The bad part is that it also instructs your body to store fat.
What’s the long term detriment?
Excess sugar can cause Type 2 Diabetes. If your body is working overtime to process excess sugar, your hormonal system (which tells your pancreas to produce insulin) can be desensitized and can cause your pancreas to become overworked. This helps to develop Type 2 Diabetes.
In the meantime, high levels of blood sugar lead your body to a condition called Glycation. This is where glucose starts to bind with other fat and protein molecules in your food and within your body.
This can impair and damage all kinds of internal molecular function, accelerate the ageing process, damage skin, overwork organs, weaken joints and muscles and increase fat retention.
That all sounds really bad. But of course, we all think that it will happen to someone else and not us. Think again.
29.1 million people (9.3%) of the U.S. population have diabetes. 21.0 million people have been diagnosed and 8.1 million (27.8%) are undiagnosed. While Type 2 Diabetes is less common that Type 1, still, in just one year, 5,089 people younger than 20 years old were newly-diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. (Type 1 diagnoses totaled 18,436 in that same year.) And new cases of Type 2 Diabetes are increasing among the under 2 year-olds.
As a population, we all need to manage our sugar intake better than we’re doing it now.
By cutting out sugar altogether?
Let’s look at it logically. Natural cane sugar (the stuff you have in your tea and coffee) isn’t the bad guy here. The little spoonful you have in a cup of tea is not going to destroy your body.
It’s the simple sugars (that contain no beneficial nutrients at all) that make us fat through excess and empty calories.
The real issue lies within the everyday food products that we consume every day. We don’t even think about how much sugar we’re ingesting in them. Fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, white breads, sugary cereals and chocolates contain huge amounts of sugar – leading people to consume 40-50 grams of sugar in one sitting. But what does that mean?
To put this in perspective, don’t think of “sugar” as just sweet snacks. You have to include breads (carbohydrates) and added sugar in food items we don’t consider treats (yogurt). During digestion, one slice of white bread has the equivalent amount of glucose as four tablespoons of natural cane sugar. If you drink a can of soda, have a sandwich, a yogurt and a snack cake for lunch, you will have consumed 60+ grams of sugar. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is around 40 grams.
What food should we really avoid to manage sugar effectively?
Many foods are presented as healthy but are really not. Smoothies and protein milk shakes can contain massive amounts of sugar – like 60-80 grams – through the high fructose corn syrups used to make them. This is just one example. Realize that you need to become an intensive label reader to get a handle on this.
Most people don’t find it reasonable to totally eliminate these sugars. But we can limit them in our daily intake. The key is to cut our or limit the sugars (that are responsible for fat retention, illnesses, aging and increased incidences of diabetes, heart disease and cancers) in what you most commonly consume.
Here is a list of what most families should consider cutting out or limiting:
- Fizzy sodas
- Cakes/Doughnuts etc
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Concentrated fruit juices
- Sports drinks (They often have no place in sport anyway and are an advertising gimmick)
- Ice creams
- Desserts (including the low fat varieties which are often worse than normal ones)
- Many low-fat foods (while they are low in fat content, they usually have more sugar to compensate)
It’s first on the above list but it shouldn’t be simply limited. Cut it out. Pretend it doesn’t exist. There are a multitude of reasons that it shouldn’t be included in even the loosest definition of a health conscious diet.
After settling into these parameters, expand your view and read your labels so you can remove even more excess sugar from your consumption list. Get creative with fun yet healthier snacks than cookies. Consume true protein builders after workouts instead of thinking that protein shake or smoothie is the best route to replenishing your body and rebuilding your spent muscles.
Learn the terms that food companies use to camouflage sugar in their products and avoid them. Realize that these companies aren’t creating food labels and marketing campaigns to help you eat healthier. Most are just interested in what will get you to buy it. It’s best to purchase unsweetened. Don’t fall for sugar-free language because these are simply foods that contain sugar substitutes which are synthetic/chemical based and represent another set of badness for our bodies. Try subbing other or additional flavors instead of the bad things like sugar and sodium.
Don’t think that you can never have sweets again. Enjoy a treat in a dessert every once in a while. What is important here is to change your eating lifestyle. Take out what you consume consistently. If you let yourself, you’ll soon admit that you feel better with the sugar out of your diet and actually enjoy the occasional slice of cheesecake even more! And the bonus is that you’re likely to enjoy those infrequent desserts for more years in your longer life!
Resources: American Swim Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medical Daily, Health.com