The Effects of Sugar on the Body
The average American consumes 22 to 30 teaspoons of sugar each day, according to the American Heart Association. That’s an extra 350 to 480 calories each day in sugar — and over three times the recommended daily amount.
But the effects of sugar on the body go far beyond a simple increase in calorie consumption. Sugar consumption affects organs throughout the body, including the liver and heart. It increases your risk of disease. It can affect your thought processes. It even affects the appearance of your skin. Sugar messes with your functioning from head to toe — from minor annoyances to life-threatening health conditions.
It’s a Weighty Issue
More sugar equals more calories without any nutritional value. It’s a simple idea, and the reason a high-sugar diet causes weight gain. When sugary foods make up a large portion of your diet, your body receives more calories than it needs.Those sugary foods make less room in your diet for the healthy foods that provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Eating a candy bar instead of a bowl of fruit and cottage cheese robs the body of vitamins and protein, for example.On top of the “empty calories” in sugar, those foods that are high in sugar often don’t satisfy your hunger well. You can eat an entire candy bar and still feel hunger. This may cause you to consume even more calories to satisfy your hunger. Often this means more of the sweet treat that originally left you feel unsatisfied. And more calories can lead to weight gain.People with high levels of sugar consumption are much more likely to become obese or overweight, no matter what age — even children. In fact, children who drink a serving of sugar-sweetened beverage daily have a 60 percent greater chance of become obese. This sets your child up for a lifetime of being overweight or obese — plus, all of the potential health problems that come along with that excess weight.
The Sugar Addiction Trap
Sugary foods make you feel good. They taste great. Sugar
makes you feel less stressed. One taste makes you want more. Why? The cells in the brain need sugar to function, but the sugar also seems like a reward to the brain with the triggered production of dopamine. Brain scans taken while eating sugary foods show that the same area of the brain stimulated by alcohol consumption lights up with sugar consumption. This causes you to want more of
the sugary goodness. The more sugar you eat, the more you reinforce that reward cycle, making it difficult to kick the sugar habit.
The sugar “high” you get from eating simple sugars also contributes to the feeling that you need even more sugar. As your blood sugar levels spike, you feel the rush of energy from the sugar. You get that afternoon pick-me-up you need to power through that staff meeting.
That sugar high is quickly followed by the crash that happens when the body produces insulin. The insulin squelches the high blood sugar levels. Just as fast as you were up, you are now down.
Some people then reach for another sugary snack or drink to overcome those feelings of being tired, shaky or in need of another sugar high. The sugar high/sugar crash becomes a cycle that is difficult to break and causes a higher overall sugar consumption rate, which can have serious side effects on the body.
While some doctors are hesitant to label sugar or other foods as addictive, it’s clear that the body receives a pleasurable
feeling from consuming sugar, which can make it a tough habit to break. You want to feel good, so you continue reaching for the foods that give you that good feeling. Finding other ways to reward yourself can help replace that feel-good response you get from sugar. Slowly reducing your sugar consumption can also be an effective way to break free from the chains of sugar to slowly improve your overall health.
All in Your Head: The Effects of Sugar on the Mind
when it messes with your processing.High-sugar diets may also increase the risk of depression by 58 percent. So, while you may feel good immediately, over time your sugar consumption could cause some serious problems in the way you feel.
Take It to Heart
You know saturated fats are bad for your heart, but sugar can also have a damaging effect on your cardiac health. A high intake of added sugars seems to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. One study that took place over 15 years indicated that people who consume 25 percent or more of calories from sugar were more than twice as likely as those who consumed less than 10 percent of calories from sugar to die from heart disease. Simply eating a high-sugar diet significantly increases your risk of heart problems.
The sugar you consume enters the blood stream as part of the body’s natural process. The more refined sugar you consume, the higher your blood sugar levels rise. All of that sugar heads to the heart, where studies show it can cause damage to the vital muscle. The sugar may stress the heart and affect functioning. It can cause inflammation of the artery linings. Over
time, this could lead to heart failure.
Fructose in the blood can lower your good cholesterol levels, increasing the production of triglycerides. This can
increase your risk of stroke or heart attack.
When you consume sugar, your liver takes the brunt of the sugary influx. If you eat excessive amounts, the sugar can overload the liver. As the sugar breaks down in the liver, it turns into glucose and fructose.
In small quantities and in natural forms, such as the sugar in fresh fruit, a healthy liver is easily able to turn the fructose into
glycogen, which is then stored until the body needs it. Everything runs smoothly.
Things get a little bumpy when the liver becomes full of glycogen due to excessive refined sugar consumption. When you eat too much sugar, the fructose levels build up, and the liver eventually turns them to fat. That fat can get stuck in the liver, which causes non-alcoholic fatty liver. In other words, excessive sugar consumption can eventually have the same
damaging effects on the liver as alcohol.
Your overall health and activity level can affect how the liver processes the sugar. People who are inactive and consistently eat a high-calorie diet with processed foods may have more issues with high sugar intake, as the liver has more difficulty processing all of the extra sugar.
Sugar starts wrecking havoc on your body as soon as you put it in your mouth. The sugar provides energy for the bad bacteria in your mouth, increasing the risk of cavities. Acid produced by the bad bacteria can cause tooth decay and cavities. That means extra trips to the dentist for treatments that you won’t particularly enjoy.
Sugar isn’t the only cause of cavities, though. Any carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes and fruit, can help create the acid, but sugar is definitely a major player in the development of cavities. Many sugary treats, such as soda, cookies and candy, stay on the teeth for longer periods because they aren’t easily removed by your saliva. That extended time on your
teeth gives the sugar more time to go to work supporting the damaging acid production that can lead to cavities.
Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
Excessive sugar consumption may be linked to insulin resistance, one of the beginning steps in a number of health issues, including metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Insulin is necessary for glucose to enter cells, but over time, the cells can become resistant to the effects of insulin.
When insulin resistance begins, the pancreas tries to compensate by making even more insulin to control blood sugar levels. Over time, the resistance increases until the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin, causing a huge increase in blood sugar levels. If those levels get high enough, this can cause Type II diabetes.
Inflammation Throughout the Body
Sugar can cause inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to other health issues. Individuals with arthritis in particular may experience increased inflammation with highly processed sugar consumption, leading to increased pain.
The inflammation can also affect the collagen and elastin that keeps your skin looking young and supple. Young, healthy skin generally repairs itself from damage caused by UV rays and other damaging factors to prevent premature aging.
Sugar is different. It causes cross-links to form in amino acids near the skin, which interferes with the natural repair process. This could increase the appearance of premature aging in the skin through wrinkles or sagging.
Control Your Sugar Cravings
Not within the recommended range and not sure how to reduce sugar intake? If your sweet tooth has you reaching for sugary snacks and drinks, try these methods of cutting back:
- Track how much sugar you consume daily. Knowing your total intake helps you figure out how much you need to cut back to stay within the recommended range. Use your current sugar intake to help you set goals for gradually reducing your sugar intake. Continue tracking sugar intake as you make healthier choices to track your progress.
- Read nutrition labels. The sugar content on nutrition labels lumps both natural and added sugar into one measurement. It’s
not always easy to spot sugar on the ingredients list, even when it is added. More than 60 names appear on labels, all of which mean sugar was added to the product. It’s no wonder cutting sugar is a challenge. Anything with sugar, syrup or sweetener as part of the name qualifies. Look for “ose” words, such as fructose, glucose and sucrose, for other potential sugar sources. Look for lower-sugar versions of the foods you consume.
- Eat whole foods. Much of the added sugar consumed in a day comes from processed foods, many of which aren’t considered sweets. Opt for whole fruit, vegetables, grains and lean proteins for the majority of your calories.
- Focus on adding healthy foods. Instead of thinking about how much sugar you have to cut, focus on adding healthy
foods to your diet. If you consume nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and other healthy foods, you are more likely to satisfy your hunger with those items, thus reducing the amount of sugary treats you have room to eat.
- Cut one source of sugar each week. If the thought of drastically reducing your sugar intake makes you nervous, take a gradual approach. Start cutting sugary treats a little at a time. Cut dessert to one or two days a week. Stop adding sugar to your coffee. Skip the weekly office donut tray. This gives you a chance to adjust to less sugar over time.
- Reduce sugar content in recipes. If you make muffins, breads and other baked goods at home, leave out some of the sugar. Most recipes won’t taste much different, but you can cut your overall consumption.
- Sweeten with fruit. Cereal, plain yogurt, oatmeal and similar foods may taste bland to you without sweetener. Instead of adding sugar, honey or other sweeteners, try adding fruit. Add a banana to your oatmeal, for example. Fruit contains natural sugars, so you still get the sweetness without added processed sugar.
- Try alternative flavoring. Instead of relying on sugar to enhance the flavor of your recipes, try other options, such as vanilla or lemon flavoring. Spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, also boost flavor without increasing sugar.
- Cut sugary drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda has an average of 8 teaspoons of sugar. That’s 130 calories from sugar alone.
Instead of drinking teaspoons of sugar, try unsweetened drinks. Add fruit to water for a gentle flavor. Drink unsweetened tea with a lemon wedge for added flavor.
- Distract yourself. Having a sugar craving? Do something to take your mind off of it long enough for the feeling to pass. Go for a walk — it gets you out of the house and away from sugary items, and it benefits your body. Meet up with a friend. Engross yourself in a hobby.