Is sugar good for you? One can of soda contains more sugar than the average human living a few hundred years ago would have consumed in an entire year. You can see how dramatically our lives have changed in such a short span of time when it comes to sugar consumption. Sugar addiction is a real thing.
In 2006, soda companies and drink companies in the US spent roughly $3.2 billion on marketing carbonated drinks. Of the total amount of money spent, nearly a half billion of the marketing dollars aimed directly at youth ages 2–17.
Sugar is used in approximately 75% of packaged foods purchased in the United States. According to the NY times, the average American consumes between 1/4 of a pound to a full 1/2 pound of sugar every single day. Discover how you can keep you blood sugar in the fat loss zone with the morning fat melter.
The United States spends an estimated $190 billion a year treating obesity-related health conditions. Some, if not most of which come from sugar related problems.
So how much sugar is too much sugar? Sure, I’ll admit it, I love eating sweets during celebratory times. I even love eating them on a random Tuesday night for no reason at all while watching my favorite Netflix original series.
Is that sprinkle adorned cupcake really worth all the potential health risks? I decided to dig deeper to see the primary sources of all this sugar in our diets, how much sugar consumption is considered a healthy amount? Why does your body crave this sweet and addictive food group called sugar to begin with?
What is Sugar?
Before the introduction of sugar, the primary sweetener had been honey. Honey was relatively rare and not mass-produced, so the majority of people had no sweeteners at all in their normal diet.
So what is sugar?
Sugars today are derived from either sugar cane or sugar beet and are produced through the process of photosynthesis. Once the juice has been extracted and the impurities removed, it is then crystallized into white sugar which is 99.95% sucrose.
Sugars are technically carbohydrates, which are found most frequently in foods containing starches and sugars. The actual term ‘sugars‘ embody a range of mono and disaccharide molecules such as:
Sugar does occur naturally in some food groups like in dairy, fruits, and vegetables. It is also found in starch-rich foods, or carbohydrates. These include breads, rice, and whole grains.
Nutritionists recommend that 50% of the sugars you consume should come from these starchy foods or those that are high in fiber.
So, why is sugar bad for you?
The major concern I want to talk about are the sugars that do not occur naturally. The sugars that are in question are those that are added sugars. These types of sugars are added to processed or prepared foods and beverages to make them sweeter. Such sugars include:
- White sugar
- Brown sugar
- Caloric sweeteners
- High fructose corn syrup
A good rule of thumb that I use when navigating the complex world of added sugar is to look at the back label. If the product does not contain any milk (lactose) or fruit (fructose) in the ingredients then it means that the sugars you see listed on the label are all added sugars.
What Does Sugar Do To Your Body?
Let’s establish something right away. Sugar itself, in the naturally occurring form, is not necessarily harmful to your body. The flip side of this is that sugar isn’t something that our bodies need to function properly. It also causes that annoying gassy and bloating feeling.
Added sugars contribute ZERO nutrients to your body. They do contribute a large amount of calories though. Have you ever heard the term empty calories? I’m pretty sure added sugars invented that term. I like to call this the sugar diet.
Empty calories are the calories from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages. They add to total calories, but provide no vitamins or minerals.
Today Americans are consuming more than 5 times the amount of refined added sugar recommended by the American Heart Association. The recommended daily value for added sugar for women is 6 teaspoons per day and 9 teaspoons for men. Unfortunately, Americans are consuming 22 and 30 teaspoons of the sweet stuff each day.
This is why refined sugar is becoming an increasing concern. More and more research is being revealed that weight gain and poor oral hygiene aren’t the only health risks that come with eating sugar on regular basis. Eating too much sugar can effect and lead to some major health issues beyond the obesity concern, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
Do you still need more facts why sugar is bad for you? Sure, as promised earlier in this article here are some facts about sugar and the effects of why sugar is bad for you.
Obesity and Sugar Sweetened Beverages
Why is sugar bad for you?
According to a study done by Harvard University, obesity rates are on the rise with 2 out of every 3 adults, and 1 out of 3 children being overweight in the United States.
A large contributor to this health epidemic is the consumption of sugar drinks like soda and energy drinks. One Coca Cola contains 39g of sugar — or 16.5 sugar cubes — in a 20oz bottle! One Mountain Dew contains 77g — or 19.5 sugar cubes — in a 20 ounce bottle.
Imagine sitting down at your kitchen table and eating 17 sugar cubes? I personally stay away from drinking soda. There is too much sugar added to them to be healthy for you. I stick to my bottles of water.
Clinical studies have confirmed that sucrose (and particularly fructose) can induce weight gain. Researchers from the University of Reading, the University of Cambridge, and Arizona State University compared sugar intake in 1,700 people in Norfolk, UK.
They were able to collect data from these individuals using two separate methods. They used urine samples and self reported sugar consumptions to measure sugar levels.
They found that the people who consumed the most sugar after 3 years, were 54% more likely to be overweight than those who were not eating much sugar at all.
Yet the obese individuals tended to misrepresent how much sugar they were really eating. Those who said they were eating and drinking the most sugar were actually 44% less likely to be obese than those who claimed to be consuming the least sugar of all.
Dr. Gunter Kuhnle, nutritional scientist at the University of Reading, said:
This is the largest study conducted so far that has found such a clear link between sugar consumption and obesity. This suggests the strongest evidence yet that high sugar consumption should be seriously considered as a contributor to the obesity pandemic.
A study published in 2014 in JAMA: Internal Medicine, reported that too much added sugar in your diet can significantly increase your risks of dying from cardiovascular disease.
The statistics in the study showed that 17% – 21% caloric intake from added sugars attributed to a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This was compared to those who consumed a mere 8% of sugar derived calories.
The risk factors more than doubled for the individuals who consumed more than 21% of their calories from added and refined sugars.
Even for those who are not obese, a person who consumes a normal caloric intake of 2,000 a day is at an increased risk with even just drinking as little as two 12 oz. cans of soda per day.
Rachel Johnson, head of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, says:
Scientists aren’t certain exactly how sugar may contribute to deadly heart problems, but it has been shown to increase blood pressure and levels of unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides; and also may increase signs of inflammation linked with heart disease.
In other studies, researchers observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality.
Hypertension and Sugar Intake
Hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure. It was once believed that salt was the primary culprit for hypertension. Now the heat is on the sugar craze. Sugars are now viewed as more of a risk factor in developing high blood pressure than salt.
A study released by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed confirmation of accusations against sugar causing high blood pressure. In just 2 weeks, the participants of the study experienced a 5% increase in blood pressure after consuming 3.5 liters of soda per day.
This study was an extreme case and conducted its research at 3 times the sugar intake of the average American. Keep in mind though, once the participants were off the high sugar diet, it only took their bodies 2 weeks to normalize their blood pressure.
This study was a great example of how the rapidness of sugar consumption can cause harm and damage in such a short amount of time.
Before I mention another study it is important for me to explain what carbohydrate sensitivity is. The next study shows how carbohydrate sensitivity can effect your blood pressure when consuming a lot of sugar. So what is carbohydrate sensitivity? This will make more sense in a minute.
In order to understand carbohydrate sensitivity, you must know how sugars are broken down and stored in the body. Carbohydrates are made up of glucose (sugar) molecules. Glucose provides energy to your body. This dependency on glucose requires that you eat carbohydrates regularly and that your body uses glucose efficiently.
When your body has an increase in blood sugar, your pancreas releases a well-known hormone called insulin. Insulin allows the glucose to enter your cells where it is metabolized to produce energy. Carbohydrate sensitivity means that there was more insulin released from your pancreas than needed, causing your pancreas to over work itself.
So now that you know what carbohydrate sensitivity is, the next study will make a little more sense to those who did not know.
In another study, an increase in blood pressure was also observed in healthy adults fed a diet of 33% sugar (sucrose) for 6 weeks but not when diets of 5% or 18% of sugar (sucrose) was consumed. This study was done in 24 carbohydrate sensitive individuals. It suggests that carbohydrate-sensitive individuals should limit their sucrose consumption to avoid increases in blood pressure.
I found a cool little quiz to test if you are carbohydrate sensitive. You can check it out here. Dr. Ede has posted it on her website.
Depression and Sugar Cravings
There is a strong link between high levels of sugar consumption and depression. The consumption of sweetened beverages, refined foods, and pastries has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of depression in longitudinal studies.
Even though sugars cause insulin and blood sugar imbalances, refined carbohydrates and sugars also use up the B vitamins you need to sustain good moods.
In a study published in British Journal of Psychiatry, 3,500 middle-aged participants were split into groups. One group was instructed to eat a diet of whole foods with many vegetables, fruits, and fish. The other group of participants were instructed to eat a diet of processed foods which were loaded with desserts, sugars, fried foods, and refined grains.
Five years later, the sugar and processed-foods group had a 58% increased risk for depression, while the whole-foods group had a 26% reduced risk of depression.
In Dr. Mark Hyman‘s book The Ultramind Solution he discusses how researchers have suggested calling depression “metabolic syndrome Type II”. Instead of gaining weight and putting the pounds on around a fat swollen belly, you also get a fat swollen (and depressed) brain.
Psychiatrists are beginning to treat depression with diabetes medicines that help control blood sugar levels. These drugs lower blood sugar, lower insulin, and reduce inflammation.
Controlling your sugar intake to only small amounts can improve the balance of hormones to your brain and thus improve your over all mood and mental well-being.
Anxiety and Sugar Cravings
Sugars don’t necessarily cause anxiety. They can heighten and worsen the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks in those who already suffer from these conditions. Sugar creates changes in your body that may make your anxiety symptoms worse, or cause feelings that trigger anxiety attacks.
The Standard American Diet is full of sugar, which can impair your body’s ability to cope with stress, can cause blurred vision, fatigue, and difficulty thinking. These are all related triggers to panic attacks and increased fear or worry.
Those who already experience symptoms of anxiety are generally hyper-aware of signs of impending danger. A sugar high (which always results in a subsequent crash) can cause tension and shaking which in turn amps up anxiety to a far worse degree.
Anxiety is not curable through diet alone. In this case, as with depression, minimizing your intake of sugar can improve your body’s ability to cope with stress and boost your energy levels.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic lifelong disease which is directly related to sugar intake. It is by definition a metabolic disease in which the body’s inability to produce any or enough insulin causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood.
A study done over the span of 10 years in 175 countries researched the link between sugar availability and diabetes. Within the population sample on a per person, per day basis, the prevalence of diabetes was found at an increase of 1.1% for every 150 calorie intake of sugar.
To put this into perspective for you, a real life example of 150 calories is one can of soda per day. How many cans of soda do you drink per day?
Needless to say, the study found that in populations where sugar was decreased, so was the presence of diabetes in those individuals compared to those with more exposure to sugars.
Sugars work fast in your body. A group of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Touro University California wanted to see how fast sugars actually work in our bodies. They conducted a study with children to see how sugar affects their health.
These researchers cut out soda, pastries, sugary cereals and other foods and beverages sweetened with added sugars from 43 Latino and African-American children and teens for nine days. They replaced those foods with pizza, baked potato chips, and other starchy processed foods.
The children were apart of UCSF obesity clinic who had symptoms of metabolic syndrome that can lead to diabetes. The removal of these foods were seen to reduce sugars in the children’s diets to 10% of overall calories from 28%.
In just 9 days, the researchers said they found striking results. The children’s cholesterol and other lipid levels had improved. Their insulin levels had even dropped.
Cancer and Sugar Intake
In a previous article, I discussed how kale can help fight different types of cancers from its nutrients. Green, leafy vegetables are a great alternative to fighting cancers.
White sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, and soft drinks are recognized as extremely dangerous for anyone trying to prevent or reverse cancer. Why? Because cancer cells love refined carbohydrates. Sugar essentially encourages cancer growth by feeding tumors. But, research shows that eating sugar doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer.
It’s been discovered that cancer cells uptake sugar at 10 to 12 times the rate of healthy cells. It was 1931 Nobel Prize winner, Dr. German Otto Warburg, who discovered that cancer cells have a fundamentally different energy metabolism compared to healthy cells.
In a study conducted on mice, 30% in which were fed a diet that was prominent in starch had developed breast cancer. Half of the mice who had been fed extra sucrose had breast tumors. It was directly proportional when more sugar was consumed, the larger the tumors grew.
Their research focused on the differences in how the body processes fructose (through the liver) versus glucose (through the pancreas and other organs). The mice that received more fructose grew larger tumors, faster.
While this study was done on mice and not necessarily humans, the suggestion that sugar and cancers are linked is concerning. Many cancer and supplemental tests are done on rats.
I looked up the reasons to why rats are used during medical testing. It has to do with their genetic, biological and behavior characteristics closely resembling those of humans. Many symptoms of human conditions can be replicated in mice and rats. Just so you know 🙂
Why Does My Body Crave Sugar?
Are you constantly craving sugar? Why does your body crave sugar so much? Why does your body crave sugar after a workout? These are some questions I have been asked while writing this post.
It is believed that sugar is not just addictive in the casual sense of the word, but that it has properties that proves sugars are more addictive than some street drugs.
A study was conducted to determine which was more addictive: saccharin, which is a calorie free sweetener, or cocaine, a highly addictive drug. The rats that participated in this study preferred the saccharin by an overwhelming 94%.
Doctors once believed that sugar and flour addictions were related to emotional eating disorders. According to our good friend again, Dr. Mark Hyman, it’s a biological disorder, which means that it’s driven by hormones and neurotransmitters that set our bodies into a frenzy of craving sweets and carbs.
When you eat foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, there is a release of serotonin and beta-endorphins into your bodies which work to improve mood, increase self-esteem, and reduce anxiety. So naturally, after these pleasant effects begin to wear off, your body craves to feel these positive feelings over and over again.
Cut Back On Your Sugar Addiction?
That’s right! So, you’re grocery shopping trips may take a few minutes longer, get over it. Having to read the ingredients on the back of the package might take a few extra seconds, but trust me – your body will thank you for it!
Hidden sugars are tucked away inside purchased foods. These sugars amount to 74% of the United States packaged goods. That’s an enormous amount! So, one thing to keep in mind and watch out for, is the amount of sugars listen on the back of the container.
There are over 60 different names for sugars listed on food labels. Some of the names include: sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, along with barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, among others.
This sweet additive goes by a whole list of other names, too. Be on the lookout for anything that goes by these names listed below– because guess what? They’re all added sugars!
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
According to the recommended daily consumption, the American Heart Association suggests no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women.
Figuring out exactly how many calories from food labels is difficult. The American Heart Association website explains this in terms that be calculated using total sugars (that includes both natural occurring and added sugars).
For example you’d multiply grams of sugar by 4 (which equals 4 calories per 1 gram of sugar) – so a beverage that has 15 grams of sugar would count as 60 calories.
Don’t let this small task of calorie counting and number configuring seems tedious to you. It’s not. It is fairly simple. Remind yourself of all the health risks that you’re avoiding by taking the time to pay attention to your sugar intake and the foods you put into your body.
You are what you eat.
So, I discussed all the possible dangers involved with consuming too much sugar. There are numerous health problems when consuming too much sugar in your diet. I touched on how to spot added sugars on labels. I talked on how to avoid eating too much sugar, and how much is a healthy amount of sugar to consume.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you should avoid your coworker toting a box filled with jelly donuts through the office. Never eating sugar is unrealistic. But like all things in life, moderation is the best prevention.
That being said, because naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruit and vegetables are far healthier choices than a can of soda, you have options when deciding what to reach for. As long as you’re taking note of your added sugar caloric intake, it’s totally acceptable to indulge every once in a while.
If you are looking for some sweet alternative desserts, I posted a few recipes here!
Leave us comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Also, feel free to share some of your favorite healthy sweet tooth alternatives!