Sugar Overload! Sweetly Destroying Your Health
Greetings, and thanks for stopping by the blog series, “A Longer Life,” where the latest updates, news, and studies are explored, with the goal of giving you health tips on how to live longer and healthier, just by eating right!
Sugar, Sugar, Sugar! Ice cream, doughnuts, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, soda, and anything sweet can easily tempt even the most health-conscious among us. Americans consume way too much added sugar, and its impact on our health is detrimental. Knowing the difference between natural occurring sugars and added sugars is important, and being aware of which added sugars to avoid will help you live healthier (and longer)!
The average American consumes 2-3 pounds of refined sugar each week! To put this into perspective, consider this: about 100 years ago, the average American only consumed 5 lbs of refined sugar over the course of an entire year.
Refined sugar lacks vitamins and minerals, and the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetic Association agree that refined sugar has a deteriorating effect on the body’s endocrine system.
You may wonder why I keep referring to refined sugar, and it’s because there are two primary types of sugar: natural occurring, “good sugar,” is found in unprocessed, whole foods like fruit, milk, and vegetables; added or refined sugars (“bad sugar”) are sugars added to foods and beverages, and they contain no nutritional value.
The three main types of highly refined sugars are sucrose (refined from cane and sugar beets), fructose (refined from corn and fruit), and dextrose (refined from corn).
The Consequences of Too Much Added Sugar
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar is harmful to your health. Here are several negative effects of overloading your diet with sugar:
- Weight Gain: Foods and beverages containing added sugars are more calorie-dense. And of course, foods loaded with sugar like doughnuts, cake, and ice cream taste delicious, so we are more apt to eat more of them, adding to our daily calorie count. Studies have shown that, among children, those who regularly consume sugary sodas tend to be more overweight than their peers.
- Tooth Decay: Sugar and cavities go hand in hand, as you’ve probably been told countless times by your dentist (and perhaps your mother). The more often you snack on foods and beverages high in sugar content, whether natural or added sugar, the greater chance you will develop cavities. Numerous studies have revealed that oral health is a strong indicator of overall health.
- Poor Nutrition: When you grab that soda or eat that bowl of Frosted Flakes (formerly called Sugar Frosted Flakes), you’re less likely to eat or drink something healthy (like orange juice or Total), since your body is no longer hungry for the time being. A few years ago I stopped drinking soda, and sure enough, I found myself drinking water and 100% fruit juices much more often.
- Heart Disease: Frequently digesting added sugars causes your triglycerides levels to sharply increase, causing your risk for heart disease to also increase. People who consume large quantities of sugar also tend to have low levels HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” type of cholesterol).
When you do the math, most Americans consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) strongly urges against consuming this much added sugar, suggesting men have no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day, while women are advised to consume no more than 6 teaspoons.
What to Watch Out For
Although food manufacturers are not required by law to label naturally occurring sugars and added sugars separately on the nutrition label, you can always check the listed ingredients like I do.
These ingredients are all classified as added sugars, and should be avoided:
- Syrup and Corn Syrup
- Malt Syrup
- Fructose and High-fructose corn syrup
- Granulated white sugar
- Brown sugar
I did not include honey or cane juice on the list since there is an ongoing debate among nutritionists and health experts, as to how detrimental or beneficial both these sugars are.
Avoiding Added Sugars
The leading source of added sugars in the American diet come from sugary drinks, including sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks (which often are loaded with sugar and barely any fruit juice), and soft drinks. Avoiding these types of drinks and choosing healthy drinks like milk, 100% fruit juice, and water will greatly improve your health. Or, if you want something sweet, try sipping on a fruit smoothie, which has natural sugar (the good stuff); just be sure if you make it yourself or purchase a smoothie, that it is only made of fruit and natural ingredients. Many fast food smoothies contain more added sugars than natural sugars, so don’t be fooled!
Another way to decrease your intake of added sugars is to limit your consumption of candy and baked sweets, since these are usually made up of added sugars, and little else. For example, the Twinkie contains all sorts of added sugars: high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, and glucose. Reducing your intake of processed foods and candy will also help eliminate your sugar consumption.